Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

Posted by Peter Hall - January 16th 2007 @ 4:30 am

Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth Pale Man Poster

Without question, Pan’s Labyrinth is the hitherto epoch of Guillermo del Toro’s objectively off-and-on filmography.  His personal tale about the innocence of a little girl amidst a world of pain is, to say the least, bursting with imagination.  Featuring not only the best makeup effects of 2006, but some of the best prosthetics ever made, del Toro’s little horrors-packed-fantasy film is a rarity.  It defiantly places pure fantasy into the 1944 aftermath of the Spanish civil war, deftly contrasting the gore of men and their wars with the hopes and dreams of a young girl named Ofelia. 

Ofelia is, superficially, protected from the war around her by her new stepfather, a high ranking captain in the Spanish army who also happens to be a psychopath.  The captain’s maid, Mercedes, is secretly helping the rebels who still threaten Spain’s power.  Oh, and Carmen, Ofelia’s mother, is bed ridden with the impending birth of the captain’s son.

All of this surrounds Pan, the titular faun who is a representative stationed on earth by the King of the Underworld, who instructs Ofelia on the 3 tasks she must perform to prove her character and be reunited with her real father, the aforementioned King.

At the epicenter of the narrative is the never ending oppression the machine of man holds over the human heart.  Guillermo leverages the brutality of man, chiefly the psychopathic captain, to suffocate the imaginations we all once held dear to our hearts.  It isn’t a horror film, per say, but there are horrors present.  The sequence with the Pale Man alone is enough to deserve it a writeup on this site.

As mentioned, the makeup effects are phenomenal, but as captivating as they are, they’re brought to such levels of realism by the actors who bring it all together.  Doug Jones is, frankly, badass as both Pan and the Pale Man.  Ivana Baquero is a real find as Ofelia, and she will undoubtedly go on to great things. 

Guillermo del Toro has assembled a masterful film, which is – in the scope of his career – a masterpiece, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.  The film is magneficient, but it isn’t invincible.  It suffers, if possible, from too much of an imagination.  The choice was clearly a deliberate one, but I wanted more of the fantasy, more of the promise of hope, than the writer/director was willing to offer.

Again, this was a conscious choice.  It functions exactly as it should, painfully illustrating that more often than not, the way we wish the world were is far more beautiful than the reality.  But in terms of sheer enjoyment of a film, the sections of fantasy are delivered with such perfection that a viewer can’t help but crave to see more of that.  It’s an intentional tease, and I am fully aware my complaint is subjectively minor, but it warrants mention.

Other than that, Pan’s Labyrinth is truly remarkable.  To say more on the subject would be redundant, because chances are if you’ve read this far, you already know that the film is almost universally being declared one of the top ten films of 2006.  And that it is.  That it is.

My only request for Guillermo is that he give the Pale Man his own movie.

comments are closed
  1. January 16th, 2007 | 11:27 am | #1

    Of the films I saw on the big screen in 2006, Pan’s Labyrinth would be my favourite, Guillermo del Toro is exceedingly talented.

  2. R.J. Sayer
    January 16th, 2007 | 5:54 pm | #2

    still think this thing is WILDLY overrated.

    still think DEVIL’S BACKBONE is FAR superior.

    but i truly hope that this doesn’t become another instance of me growing to despise a perfectly competent and worthwhile film just because of the ridiculous hype it gets.

  3. January 16th, 2007 | 6:50 pm | #3

    I wouldn’t say it is overrated, but rather over hyped. The movie is definite quality, and I do think it stands as one of the best films of 2006, but it isn’t the breathtaking, emotionally destroying movie some critics are making it out to be.

  4. Brian
    January 17th, 2007 | 10:26 pm | #4

    “Without question, Pan’s Labyrinth is the hitherto epoch of Guillermo del Toro’s objectively off-and-on filmography.”

    Do you write for the Village Voice now? English please.

  5. January 19th, 2007 | 6:55 am | #5

    “No doubt, Pan’s Labyrinth is the fuck all of Guillermo del Toro’s career.”


  6. Brian
    January 20th, 2007 | 6:25 pm | #6

    Oh, in that case you are way off…Mimic is the bomb.

  7. January 21st, 2007 | 12:14 pm | #7


  8. January 5th, 2008 | 6:17 am | #8

    One of my favorites of the last couple years. While I can see where you’re coming from, I found myself *almost* as interested in the “real world” stuff as I was the fantasy sequences. That stepfather sure was a son-of-a-bitch, wasn’t he?

    Great flick. Overhyped? Yeah, sure. I think DEVIL’S BACKBONE is *almost* just as good. But PAN’S lived up to my expectations, no doubt about that.


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