Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro, 2006
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.