Pan’s Labyrinth was my first foray into art house as a preteen. I remember sitting up late at night watching my DVD copy from the local video store, not knowing what I was getting into. Mesmerized by the horrific box art and seeing a glimpse of the pale man, it seemed like a good foreign horror film to scare myself with on a weekend night, but what I watched was so much more than that. The beautiful colors of the magic world mixed with the greys of war, the intensity of the characters, and the ultra depressing escapism of the whole situation left me completely floored. Almost 10 years later, and director Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece Pans Labyrinth is still in my top 10 films of all time, and I need at least a couple of re-watches per year. Set in 1944 during the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who moves to a country side house owned by her mother’s new husband Vidal (Sergi Lopez), the captain of the National Army fighting a band of rebel soldiers trying to take the country back. As she arrives at this new home, Ofelia discovers a maze made out of stone which leads to a spiral staircase underground. From here, Ofelia falls into a fantasy world full of both wonderful and horrific magic and monsters, as the real world comes undone around her.
There are really two different films inside Pan’s Labyrinth; the world of magic that Ofelia surrounds herself in, and the ongoing war occurring all around her. What makes this film really special, though, is how Del Toro ties these two worlds into one, where the horrors of war mix with the horrors of an adult themed fairy tale. Nothing feels out of place, and everything complements each other, down to the color palette: the realistic elements are surrounded with grey tones and dark lighting, while the magical elements illuminate with a beautiful blend of yellows and oranges. When these two worlds meet, they both blend to make a beautiful, dreary landscape. The cinematography alone is worth a viewing. On top of this, you have the brilliant acting skills of the young actress Baquero. Her performance of Ofelia is so convincing, as a naive girl living in her own world, escaping the real one and leaving it in its path. Throw in an amazing Lopez as the horrifying Vidal and Doug Jones as both the horrifying yet comforting Faun and the absolutely terrifying, nightmare-inducing Pale Man. Fun Fact: Doug Jones is the only actor to have never spoken Spanish before filming. You would have never known, though, as Jones is a highlight as the Faun, giving film fans nightmares for years to come.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a perfect film. I never like to throw around the word “perfect,” but it really is. It has an amazing cast of super talented actors, an incredible script by Del Toro himself, beautiful camerawork, and amazing monster effects. If you love adult-oriented fantasy tales or period pieces, Pan’s Labyrinth should be mandatory viewing. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a trip to the Brattle this Friday night or Saturday afternoon to catch a showing of Pan’s Labyrinth in 35mm. There’s no better way to experience such a masterpiece.
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Screens Friday, 1/6, 9:30 PM, and Saturday, 1/7, 1:30 PM