Similar in tone to his 2001 masterpiece The Devil's Backbone, Guillermo del Toro drenches Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) in beautiful, haunting images and gorgeous cinematography to create a powerful story of magic and loss.
Set in 1944 rural Spain, the film opens as Ofelia, a little girl who dreams of fairy tales, and her pregnant mother Carmen join up with Ofelia's stepfather Captain Vidal. The cruel Vidal commands a group of soldiers charged with defeating the anti-fascist rebels hiding in the Spanish countryside. Soon after their arrival Ofelia follows an enticing dragonfly into a garden labyrinth, where she encounters a magical being, a faun, who unveils the nature of reality and reveals destiny.
As the tale progresses, Ofelia retreats more and more into the dark labyrinth. Interwoven with Ofelia's story are the tales of the rebels and particularly their spy within Vidal's camp, the captain's housekeeper Mercedes. Expertly portrayed by Maribel Verdú, the sympathetic Mercedes anchors the tale as voice of reason. Ivana Baquero as Ofelia charms in a challenging role full of varying emotions and acting with digitally-generated characters.
A classic fascist villain, Sergí Lopez's creepy and powerful Captain Vidal scares more than any of the mythical monsters.
Simultaneously terrifying and fascinating, Pan's Labyrinth is not a story for children. The fascists engage in particularly horrifying acts, notably in one scene where a peasant's face is bashed in with a wine bottle. The violence is redeemed by the engaging, bittersweet tale and the simple but elegant design and portrayal of the faerie creatures. The movie glides effortlessly between the fey and the everyday. Del Toro's vision exceeds all expectations.
Guillermo del Toro's previous five films laid the groundwork for this amazing fairy tale spectacle. A dazzling gothic fairy tale for grown-ups, Pan's Labyrinth represents the artistic pinnacle to date of his career.
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