Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running Time: 118 mins
Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) is a Spanish film about a young girl living in a house filled with nationalist soldiers in the early years of Fascist Spain who stumbles across a mysterious fantasy world in a labyrinth just outside.
It’s by no means perfect, but Pan’s Labyrinth is definitely one of the most captivating films I’ve ever seen. Despite having what would normally come across as a disjointed plot, I was utterly enthralled by the mix of fantasy, history and emotional drama in this film, and thanks to some hugely effective directing and cinematography, Pan’s Labyrinth is an absolutely fantastic watch.
What I loved best about this movie was its fantasy. Although it only takes up about a quarter of the story, the best moments in this film are when we follow Ofelia into the realms of this bizarre and extremely eerie fantasy world just outside her house. Del Toro brilliantly gives a sense of fairytale-like wonder and excitement in the young girl, but uniquely contrasts that with some pretty unsettling fantasy throughout, however it’s that that really makes this part of the film work so well, making for a both enjoyable and unnerving watch.
The majority of Pan’s Labyrinth, however, doesn’t follow the world of fantasy that Ofelia wanders into. Yes, that’s by far the most striking and memorable part of the film, but the principal focus is actually the story following the tyrannical fascist general in the house waging war against rebels in the northern Spanish mountains.
As a result, much of Ofelia’s story plays second fiddle to the far more violent and bleak real-life drama for the majority of the film. Initially, because I was so captivated by the fantasy introduced early on, the other side to this story didn’t grab me so much at first, however the fact that it is so powerfully dark and nightmarish meant that I became just as enthralled by it as I was the fantasy, which made for an absolutely thrilling finale as the two stories converge.
However, if there’s one thing about Pan’s Labyrinth that works exceptionally well, it’s Guillermo del Toro’s directing. As I said earlier, the way he presents the fantasy side to the story is wonderfully unique, and helps to make a genre that I’m generally not so enchanted by hugely enthralling. But on top of that, del Toro’s bleak directing of the drama side, combined with some stunningly dark cinematography that makes the situation feel that bit more desperate and devastating, was brilliantly effective, and was the key reason that this film was so enthralling.
I absolutely loved Pan’s Labyrinth, but I couldn’t help but notice one major flaw. You’ve got these two sides to the story – the drama and the fantasy – but they don’t actually match up together very well. At times, I really felt like I was watching two completely different movies; both were absolutely enthralling, and I adored watching every minute, but it was a niggling issue to see such a divide within the narrative that never really gets fully tied up.
Overall, however, that had little effect on my enjoyment of this brilliant film. With strikingly dark and bleak drama combined with impressively unsettling yet enjoyable fantasy, I was fully engrossed here from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving Pan’s Labyrinth an 8.4.