Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Adriana Gil
Runtime: 112 minutes
Ofelia is just like any other little girl. She loves fairy tales with princesses, adores exploring the world and believes in fairies. When she stumbles upon an ancient labyrinth at the mill where she is now living with her pregnant mother Carmen and her fascist stepfather Captain Vidal, she is informed by a faun by the name of Pan that she is a lost princess called Moanna, who died
an extremely long time ago after her curiosity got the better of her and decided to explore the outside world. To prove that her "essence is intact", she is told that she must complete three tasks, and then she will be sent back to the underworld to be with her real parents again. As Ofelia ventures off on her quest to become a princess, problems face those around her - her mother is ill because of her pregnancy, the doctor and one of the maids at the mill by the name of Mercedes try their hardest to supply the rebels opposing Francisco Franco's fascist regime undetected, and everyone - in some way or another, is being badly affected by Vidal's narcissistic and demonic ways and personality. Each character deals with the problems at hand in their own ways, with twists and turns pleasantly appearing along the road. But the film mainly concentrates on the character of Ofelia - whose desperate attempt to become a princess leads her into numerous problems and troubles. And that is where one of the greatest films ever made begins.
Pan's Labyrinth isn't just an adventure film - it is a magical journey, an enticing one, a completely unforgettable one. It takes you through the roller coaster story of such wonderfully developed characters, and albeit the fact that these characters are all in situations more extreme and unlike any that most people have ever had to face, they are so easily related to in such an intriguing manner. However, do not reflect the adjectives I have used to describe this film thus far onto the overall mood and atmosphere of the majority of the film - it is, in reality, an extremely dark and shocking experience. The film starts off not happily, but at least comfortable. The thing you do not expect to happen next is to see the captain smashing an innocent man's face in, only to shoot his father moments later. This is what makes the film so artistically brilliant though - it doesn't hesitate to shock its audience. It is honest and brutal about its villain almost right from the start, which automatically constructs emotions for the audience to feel towards the character - hate, anger, and sympathy towards the characters that suffer from his actions. Captain Vidal is indeed a ruthless, cold man, yet he is one of the most interesting characters that I have seen develop in a film.
Although throughout the film you are going to feel a high level of hatred towards Vidal, the film always gives you a slight benefit of doubt. The man does seem intent on raising his child to be brave, strong and fit for the world, and while it is blatantly obvious that he doesn't want his son to put this to a good cause, I still felt a slight hint of admiration for his passion and aspiration. Although they seldom appeared, I felt there were also scenes where there were morsels of redemption within the character, that perhaps he regretted some of his past actions, and that he is not completely soulless and hasn't been completely overwhelmed by the idea of fascism. Sergi Lopez (who gives a mesmerising and perhaps career defining performance) gives off an aura of this simply with body language and facial expression. This villain was one of my favourite things about Pan's Labyrinth, mainly because he was a deep character study - villains are often just placed in films as an obstruction to the protagonists, but Vidal is rather unique - you see it as much from his point of view as you do from the protagonists, which has a stunning effect and reflects Del Toro's lenience to show the film from the perspective of the antagonist in an equal amount to the protagonist.
All of the other characters also live up to the depth of Vidal. Ofelia can be related to by children of almost any age, and not only by the female species - the character captures the adventurous spirit of almost any child growing up. As an individual character, Ofelia is also an absolute joy to watch. She aspires to what a large percentage of little girls aspire to, but she does it in her own way and adds her own flavour to everything she does, says and the way she communicates with others. She is the most effective and brilliantly characterised child character I have ever had the pleasure to view in a film. This is of course thanks to the obvious passion and effort put into the character by child actress Ivana Baquero. The third character I admired greatly was Mercedes. Her character showed a lot of stereotypical attributes and emotions displayed by characters in similar situations to her in films - courage, faith, unity, passion, love - the list goes on - but again, like Ofelia, she adds her own twist to it, although she holds similar attributes to other characters, she is not like any other character. Maribel Verdu created yet another unique character within this modern masterpiece.
Pan's Labyrinth does not at all falter on technical and dialogue levels either - the script is beautifully written and in the wonderful language of Spanish, it sounds all the better. All the dialogue is extremely apt to the atmosphere and personalities within the film. The camera work is statuesque and captures all the emotion and commotion throughout. The entire film is a reflection of Del Toro's direction, which is culminating, exciting, untarnished and skillful. I will be completely honest, I did expect to love this film. It contains a lot of what I love to see in a film - a mystical and dark atmosphere, a strange feeling of nostalgia and very well crafted shocks along the way. Those are obviously personal things that I love within a film, but I don't see how anyone could dislike Pan's Labyrinth. It is stunningly made and it is one of the best films of the past decade. This is, evidently, recommended to anyone who has not had the fortune of setting eyes on this almost faultless work of genius. There really aren't many films akin to this, it is unique in almost every way. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that I absolutely adore this film. I have such a huge level of admiration and adoration for it.