Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Review

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Pan's Labyrinth

Time:  119 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] contains violence, offensive language & horror
Cast:
Ivana Baquero as Ofelia/Princess Moanna
Sergi López as Captain Vidal
Maribel Verdú as Mercedes
Doug Jones as the Faun and the Pale Man
Ariadna Gil as Carmen
Álex Angulo as Doctor Ferreiro
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves with her mother to her stepfather’s house. At night, a fairy leads her to a faun who informs her that she is a princess and she needs to participate in three tasks to prove her royalty.

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Pan’s Labyrinth has often been hailed as director Guillermo del Toro’s best film and for good reason. It’s an incredibly directed and intelligently written dark fantasy film, with outstanding visual effects and some great performances. Even over a decade later it holds up very well, and remains a classic for sure.

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Pan’s Labyrinth is essentially a fairy tale for adults. The premise about a child entering a fantasy world in order to make sense and escape from their troubled and difficult reality is pretty much textbook fantasy. And yet, del Toro handles this so well and still makes this movie feel completely original. First of all, this is no family friendly or sanitised fairy tale. It’s not just some of the creatures that the main character encounters on her journey, but also the grimness and bleakness of the reality she’s living in. Pan’s Labyrinth is very much a spiritual successor to del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone. The script is very nuanced, and the fantasy is juxtaposed against the Spanish Civil War and the realities of fascism, with effective parallels between the two. The true villains of the story are actual fascists, not the fantasy monsters in the fantasy world. The movie also doesn’t feel overly fantasised or overly realistic, a decent balance is struck between the two. A clear theme of the movie is growing up and losing innocence, which isn’t particularly special especially with films with similar premises, but nonetheless that was handled very well in this movie. Del Toro creates a world where both the real and fiction can coexist. It’s very well paced across its 2 hour runtime. The plot isn’t exactly unpredictable, but it still keeps you invested in everything that is happening, and the ending hits very hard.

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The cast were all great across the board. Ivana Baquero plays the main character of Ofelia and she was fantastic. Baquero is a child actress who was tasked to carry a lot by herself. Even with how great the rest of the movie was, Pan’s Labyrinth wouldn’t have quite as well if she wasn’t up to the task. However she doesn’t falter and delivers a nuanced and believable performance which makes her journey over the course of the movie much more affecting. Sergi Lopez plays the ruthless Captain Vidal, who also happens to be Ofelia’s stepfather. He’s quite a threatening presence throughout the film. The Pale Man in his scene may be terrifying, but Vidal is the true bogeyman of this story. Maribel Verdu was also very good as a conflicted housekeeper. Doug Jones plays both The Faun and The Pale Man, and even through all the prosthetics gave such great and memorable performances. The rest of the cast also deliver on their parts.

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Guillermo del Toro’s direction is nothing short of outstanding. The cinematography by Guillermo Navarro is great, with cool blues and warm golds. It balances out both the grittiness and gloominess of its bleak setting in reality, as well as the fantastical setting. There is some gorgeous set design throughout, and there was clearly a lot of care and precision into the creation of this world. Much of the film feels very real. Even 14 years later, most of the visual effects still hold up quite well. What helps is that most of the effects were prosthetics and animatronics, and the CGI was used sparingly. The makeup and effects particularly on the Faun and The Pale Man are beautiful and mystical. The few moments of CGI don’t quite hold up, there’s particularly a scene involving a toad, which did look quite fake. On the whole though, the effects are great. The score by Javier Navarrete is really good too, mesmerising and very haunting.

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There’s not much more I can say about Pan’s Labyrinth that hasn’t been said before. This dark fantasy movie intended for adults is beautifully made, haunting, and incredibly well made. Definitely Guillermo del Toro’s best film to date. Watch it if you haven’t seen it before, the acclaim is 100% deserved.

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