The beautiful, imaginative world of 'Pan's Labyrinth'

I’ve been waiting a good few months for director Guillermo Del Toro’s darkly whimsical “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a film I wasn’t even positive would be released in Seattle-area theaters. But the Grand Cinema, bless its not-for-profit heart, provided me with a fantastic film and cheap popcorn to boot.

Del Toro, a director best known for “Blade II” (easily the best of the trilogy) and “Hellboy,” is actually one of my favorite working directors. His attention to tone, color and lighting (which, believe it or not, are quite essential but often overlooked) and keen sense of story and pacing make for fantastic cinema. And with “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Del Toro doesn’t disappoint. In fact, he delivers the most striking, poignant and involving film of his career.

The film is set in post-war Spain and follows the trials of an imaginative young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who finds solace from the real world in fairy tales. She travels with her pregnant mother to stay with her stepfather, the brutally merciless Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who commands a small army encampment in the rural forests of Northern Spain. The curious Ofelia discovers that the surrounding woods are inhabited by all manner of mythical creatures, the most prominent of which being the keeper of an ancient labyrinth, a satyr-like immortal named Pan (Doug Jones). As Pan charges Ofelia with a series of tasks, the conflict between Vidal’s men and the rebellious guerrilla escalates.

“Labyrinth” is strikingly similar to Del Toro’s 2001 “The Devil’s Backbone,” a ghost story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Both films center on the innocent and seemingly small struggles of children as adult violence rages around them – a diminutive story elegantly weaving in and out of an epic conflict. Del Toro excels at the interweaving plot structure, developing every character and subplot with care and passion.

The performances are just superb, with Jones behind the mask as both Pan and The Pale Man (the most terrifying creature in the film) and Lopez succeeding tremendously in making me absolutely HATE Captain Vidal’s evil guts. But the real shining star of the film is 12-year-old Ivana Baquero, who gives the best child performance since Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense.” She’s simply incredible.

As to be expected from Del Toro, the film looks spectacular. The sets and creatures look like something out of a demented children’s book (in a good way, of course). The vibrant, macabre colors of Ofelia’s imagination mesh brilliantly with the washed-out grays and browns of the real world. It’s as beautiful as it is meaningful.

With “Labyrinth,” we receive the film that “Lady in the Water” should have been: a fairy tale for adults. A fantastical spectacle of escapism, full of magic and wonder. And yet, the film is brutally violent and, to be perfectly honest, pretty damn frightening. It’s not a film for children, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s Rated-R for a very, very good reason. Just trust me, OK?

If you go into “Pan’s Labyrinth” with an open mind and readiness to read (it’s Spanish, subbed in English), you’re in for an imaginative piece of cinema, and one of the best films of the year.


  1. You're absolutely right in every aspect, but I feel like you neglected who I found to be one of the most moving characters of the film, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu).
    Verdu gives a great performance as Mercedes, the rebels' informant within the captain's garrison, and Ofelia's confidant. I feel like she respresents what magic is in the "real world" - hope and courage. Her struggle is moving and the actress playing her is amazing.
    In general, this film has great casting.

  2. Haley Joel (as he lets me call him, AWSUM!!!) did give his one and only good performance in The Sixth Sense, but he is not the most recent child star to put up a spectacular performance. America's sweetheart, little Dakota Fanning, won all of our hearts as Tom Cruise's adorable daughter who mistakenly goes over to a stream for no credible reason and sees hundreds of floating human carcasses (so cute!) and when she's almost kidnapped (brilliant!) and when she leaves her shoe for the alien to find, except she's really, really far away (genius!).
    Why, Shia Labouef?!? Why did you have to get electrically powderdized in that street, and why not Tom Cruise? WHY?!?
    War of the Worlds plagues my waking hours. Consider yourself blessed.


All comments are strictly moderated by this blog's administrator. Obscene, hateful, or otherwise offensive comments will not be tolerated. Racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks have no place on this blog. Spam will be promptly reported and deleted. For more information on R#09's moderation policies, please check the FAQs.