Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the man behind Hellboy and Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark yet intriguing tale set against the backdrop of Spain recovering from the gruelling Civil War. It follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero in her breakthrough role) as she is forced to move with her heavily pregnant mother to the mountains in order to live with her ruthless stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López, Potiche, Harry, He’s Here to Help) as he flushes out rebels. But here, Ofelia finds the labyrinth, an old ruin guarded by the Faun (Doug Jones, Hellboy, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and voiced by Pablo Adán) who tells her that she’s actually a lost princess of an underground kingdom, and to accept her inheritance, she must perform three tasks.
The style of the film is unique, a sinister fairy-tale blended perfectly with the harshness of reality. This is emphasised by the performances of the characters, as well as the eerie soundtrack provided by composer Javier Navarrete. Easily the most captivating aspect of the film is the fantasy environment created by del Toro. The subterranean realm in Pan’s Labyrinth just feels like a natural part of the Earth, and at times more realistic than the harsh reality of 20th Century Spain. It’s here where the Magical Realism shines through, a technique commonly used by South American artists. It involves the merging of the real and the fantastical, but in this case it is much more literal, and works for what del Toro is trying to achieve. This is complimented by the use of traditional practical effects and the sparse use of CGI, which adds to the awe of the labyrinth.
Baquero lends a fresh innocence to the role, but not to the point where she is stupidly naïve. We see the events through Ofelia’s eyes, and so therefore she is the character with the most screen time. But unlike several other child actors, Baquero handles this extremely well, and can maintain her standard of acting as much as the other adults. This is brilliantly counterbalanced by López, who is the film’s chillingly human villain. He presents Vidal as a cold and cruel man, who enjoys the torturing and killing of rebels under Franco’s orders. He reminded me in a way of Christoph Waltz’s Jew Hunter from Inglourious Basterds, since they act as a warning letting us know that these type of sadistic people flourish under dictatorships.
But the two most memorable characters are that of the Faun and the Pale Man. Jones lends his choreography to both of them, but to different results: the Pale Man is the stuff of nightmares, yet the Faun is wise and imposing. Both have equally jerky movements, and in contrast to the Pale Man’s silence, Adán’s voice for the Faun adds an ethereal majesty to the character.
It is easy to see why this film draws many comparisons between The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: a young girl in a war torn country finds a portal to a fantastical realm and meets a faun. But there the similarities end. Pan’s Labyrinth is a darkly mesmerising fairy-tale with a chillingly human villain, and it creates a memorable and enthralling fantasy world.