Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)


Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Written by: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López

“My mother told me to be wary of fauns.” — Maribel Verdú as Mercedes

•  •  •

Guillermo del Toro is a filmmaking magician, and we don’t deserve him.

Moviegoers haven’t earned a man who would give up his salary to ensure that he could make the film he wanted. Or a man who wrote the English subtitles himself, because he was disappointed with the lack of depth in the translation for his previous films. When directors and writers like del Toro put such care into their projects, we as an audience can do nothing but applaud.

And I did that in spades when I finally sat down and watched this film. I was surprised by the dark and ominous world del Toro created. Not knowing much about Pan’s Labyrinth prior to viewing it, I was under the impression that it was a children’s movie with fantastical creatures and beasts.

It’s got the creatures and beasts, but it is by no mean’s a children’s film.

In situating this dream world amid the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (a conflict I admittedly and shamefully have little knowledge of), del Toro does not shy away from the atrocities that occurred between the rebels and Francisco Franco’s army. And to place a child — the wonderful Ivana Baquero as Ofelia — not only right at the heart of that grisly reality but also in a horrifying fairy tale world, Pan’s Labyrinth delivers a fantastically frightening ambiance that any parent thinking of showing this movie to their child should be wary of.

The real magic of this movie, however, is the way the filmmakers brought characters like Fauno and the Pale Man to life. One of my main gripes with movies in the 21st century is their overuse of digital special effects. But del Toro insists on using as much real makeup and mechanical costume design as possible.

Monsters are scarier when you can see that what’s on screen could actually reach out and grab you. The visual realness gives them power over the imagination that digital ghouls just don’t have.

Every time the Fauna appeared on screen I was entranced by the way it moved, and the actor underneath the suit — Doug Jones — brings a slightly unhinged and dangerous element to the character who we are supposed to believe has the best interests of Ofelia at heart. Jones does double duty in the film, also playing the Pale Man in one of the best horror scenes I’ve seen in my life.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a film that demands repeat viewings, and I plan on sitting down with it again very soon. With a director like Guillermo del Toro, I know that there is so much more to discover within the story.