Directed by: Guillermo del Toro || Produced by: Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Bertha Navarro, Frida Torresblanco, Alvaro Augustin
Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro || Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones Ariadna Gil, Alex Angulo
Music by: Javier Navarrete || Cinematography by: Guillermo Navarro || Edited by: Bernat Vilaplana || Country: Spain, Mexico || Language: Spanish
Running Time: 119 minutes
One of the greatest things about fan-favorite director Guillermo del Toro is his ability to fluently transition from one industry to the next, making great films in multiple national stables and maintaining his distinctive auteur style all the while. The man has made interesting Mexican films (e.g. Cronos ), fun Hollywood films (e.g. Blade II , Hellboy , Pacific Rim ), and artsy Spanish films (e.g. The Devil’s Backbone ). If it’s about vampires, Gothic horror, fairy tales, or in Spanish, the man can direct it!
2006 saw him return to Spain and the Spanish Civil War era, specifically the early Francoist Period, which sought to turn the country into a fascist, totalitarian state similar to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. Much like the rest of his fantastical Gothic filmography, del Toro blends historical strife and bloody violence with almost playful surrealist imagery to create a world distinctly his own. It’s a treat to watch his innocent and not-so-innocent characters play around and shed blood within it.
That being said, Pan’s Labyrinth is also similar to the rest of del Toro’s filmography in that it is notably imperfect and ends awkwardly. The man can’t seem to end his films the neatest way, nor are all his ambitious special effects always the most polished. Still, del Toro’s vision is about the journey and not the destination, the imagination and not the over-thought nitpicking. It’s hard for even the most cynical film critic to berate a filmmaker so honest, up front, and warm-hearted. The man cares so much about his craft (and his viewers) that he wrote the film’s subtitles himself. Much appreciated!
PL follows the story of a young girl named Ofelia (then 11-year-old Ivana Baquero), the daughter of woman remarried to a vicious Falange officer, a member of the fascist revolutionaries that took power during the Civil, played by Sergi Lopez. The narrative plays out in and around Lopez’s compound, while the Francoist forces hunt down the Republican rebels and Baquero encounters mysterious, mystical forces that hint at a world beyond that of warring Spain.
PL is all about childhood imagination, fairy tales, and escapism. Caught in a literal nightmare where her mother is in wedlock to and carrying the child of a veritable monster, along with warfare raging all around her, Baquero envisions a fantasy world filled with adventure, weird creatures, and an offer of immortality. The plot’s mix of wacky mythical elements and gritty historical realism confound the boundaries of reality and revel in the ideals of ambiguous narrative. Much of the thematic content of the film is left up to interpretation by the viewer through del Toro’s embracing of the story’s childhood point-of-view.
Aside from the film’s multi-layered story and deeply written characters, PL is wonderfully directed and features a broad range of visual styles. PL may be del Toro’s most diverse and versatile film yet, as the Spanish Civil War backdrop is recreated in excruciating detail and admirable historical grit, while the fantasy sequences demonstrate some of del Toro’s weirdest artistic designs this side of Hellboy.
The film’s noticeable flaws are some questionable directing decisions that momentarily but consistently take you out of the movie’s world. Digital blood squibs are somewhat bearable in action films given how fast their violent scenes can move, as well as that genre’s generally less serious narratives, but here the presence of CGI blood in the 1940’s torture scenes, war battles, and impromptu surgeries look painfully fake. To that end, all of the costumes, sets, and practical effects used in the fantasy sequences look so amazing and feel so real that when del Toro inevitably switches to CGI for some effects that were likely impractical to produce with props, they stick out like a sore thumb. These directing missteps are odd for someone usually so well-versed in special effects like del Toro. Then again these are exceptions to the film’s impressive overall design and world-building, so I’m trying not to nitpick too much.
In the end, Pan’s Labyrinth will likely go down as one of del Toro’s most endearing, original films amongst a legacy of weird, widely idiosyncratic movies. The man’s filmography is so distinctly personal, so instantly recognizable that the fact that this movie stands out among them is impressive. The best compliment I can give it is to say I find it unforgettable. I don’t mean to say it’s perfect or flawlessly written, and I still can’t stand those digital effects in this historical context, but I’m going to remember PL for a long, long time. Good job, once more, Guillermo.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Del Toro paints rich landscapes of war-torn Spain and a darkly beautiful fairy tale fantasy-world you just want to get lost in. Some minor effects aside, Pan’s Labyrinth features some of del Toro’s richest visuals yet. The story’s characters are the beating heart of the movie.
— However… much of the foregrounded CGI, such as the blood effects and insect creatures, look bad compared to the otherwise rich, engrossing practical visuals. The open-ended climax features a tacked-on happy ending (or fantasy) that feels contrived despite the story’s ambiguity.
? How much weight did del Toro lose making this movie?