Adult fantasy delves deep

Ally Melling

Reality and fantasy mix in a ‘Labyrinth’ for big kids

Ofelia ( Ivana Baquero ) speaks with the Pale Man ( Doug Jones ) in Pan’s Labyrinth. PHOTO COURTESY OF PICTUREHOME

Credit: Jason Hall

Escapist fantasy films have become a popular yet sporadic staple of the film industry, producing memorable gems such as MirrorMask, Legend and The Dark Crystal throughout the years.

But those expecting Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth to be another David Bowie-goblin-king-in-tight-pants-singing-the-“Magic Dance” will be shocked to say the least.

The plot shares some similarities with the usual fairytale norm. A little girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), plunges into a realm of magical creatures and infinite possibility to escape the depressing reality of her life. The distinction of Pan’s Labyrinth, however, is that it takes this concept to a dark, brutal but beautiful level that other films have failed to hold a candle to.

Set during the time of Franco (1944), Ofelia travels with her mother through post-war Spain to live with her new fascist captain stepfather, Vidal (Sergi Lopez).

Pan’s Labyrinth

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Dough Jones, Maribel Verdu

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Distributed by Picturehouse

Rated R for graphic violence and some language.

Stater rating (out of five): ?????

As her mother prepares to bear Vidal’s child, she is unaware of her new husband’s sadistic nature and her daughter’s escapades into a mythical world of disturbing elegance. Within this world, a shady faun (Doug Jones) reveals to Ofelia her lineage as a princess of the Underworld and sets three tasks for her to complete before she can free herself from the mortal world and return to her throne.

Don’t let the whimsical air of the story deceive you. Though Pan’s Labyrinth has been simply branded “a fairytale for adults,” the unsettling visual nature of both Ofelia’s real and fantasy worlds will give small children some bad dreams.

From a Silent Hill-esque, faceless monster with hands for eyes to a shrieking, fetal mandrake root, the creatures of Ofelia’s fantastic realm are often creepy – even to adult viewers.

Balanced in the real world, the causes for the R-rating come full-force as Vidal bludgeons, tortures and executes innocents left and right with an unexpectedly bloody harshness akin to Schindler’s List.

Lopez is relentless as the cruel captain who lacks any respect for human life. Playing a bastard with all the required selfishness and coldness, he creates a new and truly memorable cinematic villain with Vidal. Veteran actress Maribel Verdu is awesome as Mercedes, the captain’s housekeeper who secretly aids the anti-fascist resistance and becomes Ofelia’s friend. Most noteworthy is 13-year-old Baquero, an amazing young actress whose sincerity and talent beats Dakota Fanning any day.

Pan’s Labyrinth is ultimately the child of del Toro. Director of movies such as The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy, del Toro began recording notes for Pan’s Labyrinth in a journal, designing specifics for everything from the eerie creature makeup to the shadowed, period sets.

More than 20 years later, he has successfully evolved his nightmarish visions into a wonderful tale of evil and innocence.

Pan’s Labyrinth has become one of the most talked-about foreign films of our time, and it’s easy to see why. The story is original, the acting is flawless and the film’s harsh nature is bold in refusing to cater to all ages. Let’s just hope it gets a wider release so people can actually see it.

Contact ALL correspondent Ally Melling at [email protected].