Pan's Labyrinth

 
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by:Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Alex Angulo
Released: January 18, 2007
Grade: A-

A young girl named Carmen (Gil) has travelled with her mother (Baquero) to a small village in northern Spain.  Carmen’s pregnant mother recently remarried and they have made the trip so that she can be with her new husband.  His name is Vidal (Lopez) and he is a captain within the Spanish military.  Vidal and his battalion have been posted to the village to stop a rising guerrilla resistance.  The year is 1944 and the resistance are trying to undermine the rule of the country’s leader, Franco.

Carmen does not like her new “father”.  He is not the warm and loving man she hoped for.  He is instead, a dictator – a man who does things his own way with little thought for others.  Carmen is not alone in her assessment of Captain Vidal.  Many of Vidal’s servants are equally unappreciative and have been stealing food and medical supplies to give to the guerrilla resistance.  He is a nasty man.

Just outside of the village is an old labyrinth built of stone.  Carmen is warned not to go in because she may become lost within its myriad of small passageways.  One evening however, she is lured there a mysterious fairy who appears at the end of her bed.  There is a descending staircase in the middle of the labyrinth and at the bottom, Carmen meets a strange looking creature who has some information for her.

This creature tells Carmen that she is the lost princess of a secret underworld.  This world has waited for her return but before she can do so, Carmen must complete three magical tasks.  The creature gives Carmen a book with instructions and then sends her back to the human world.

By this point, you may be asking the question – what kind of film is this?  To use an expression taken from others who have seen it, it’s best described as an adult fairy tale.  It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.  Incredibly violent in places, be warned that this is not a film for young children.  Its MA rating here in Australia should tell you that.  You should also know that it’s been filmed in Spanish and therefore includes English subtitles.

So is the mystical world that Carmen visits real or is it something in her imagination?  If you want the answer, you’ll have to see it for yourself.  The story that writer-director Guillermo del Toro (Mimic) has crafted is creepy yet fascinating.  It’ll keep you off balance and continually wondering what will happen next.

The film itself is a visual feast that proves you don’t need an abundance of special effects to create a fantasy world.  Reportedly made for just $5m, the efforts of the set decorators and make-up artists are superb.  Highlighting their work is a scene in which Carmen confronts a pale creature with no eyes.

Pan’s Labyrinth has developed a cult following in recent months.  Many critics have included in their 10 best films of 2006 and the National Society of Film Critics in the U.S. recently awarded it their best film of the year honour (the last two winners were Capote and Million Dollar Baby).  The public are equally captivated by the film and it is currently ranked 139th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best films of all time.

It’s not a film for everyone but many will fall in love with it.