PAN'S LABYRINTH: Fantasy Merges With Reality
PAN’S LABYRINTH (fantasy thriller)
Cast: Ivano Baquero, Maribel Verdu, Sergi Lopez, Ariadna Gil, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Time: 116 mins
Rating: * * * ½
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? From Guillermo del Toro, the director of "Helboy", "The Devil’s Backbone" and "Blade 2", comes a gothic fantasy that infuses fairy tale elements into the real-life horrors of the Second World War. "Pan’s Labyrinth" interweaves the two in such a way that it is sometimes difficult to discern which is scarier: the fairy tale realm of ghouls and monsters, or the atrocities of war that man does unto his own kind. We are, however, wont to think that it is the latter…
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Set in Spain during the WW2, before and after D-Day, "Pan’s Labyrinth" is about a young girl named Ofelia (Ivano Baquero) who is taken by her widowed mother (Ariadna Gil as Carmen) to a villa in the countryside to begin a new life with her new husband, the vicious and sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) of General Francisco Franco’s army.
Mommy, who is heavily pregnant, has been summoned to the front lines by Vidal because he believes that his ‘son’ should be born close to him. Ofelia dislikes his stepfather the minute she sets eyes on him. When she discovers a maze in front of her new home, she sees fairies and a faun (Doug Jones) who tells her that she is a long-lost princess, daughter of the King of the Underworld.
However, to enter her kingdom, she must perform three dangerous tasks before the next full moon. These include descending into a cave to retrieve a key from a giant toad; and using the key to open a box to get a magic dagger. These tasks are made more complicated when Ofelia’s mother falls ill, and when she gets involved with her housekeeper’s (Maribel Verdu as Mercedes) ties with the rebels in the woods.
HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: Director del Toro, working on a script by Guillermo Navarro, shifts back and forth, from reality to fantasy, with incredible ease. Both are equally compelling and we even feel a tinge of regret when we are taken away from one story to the other. Indeed, both worlds are dark, dank and dangerous for young Ofelia, but she seems to be more at home in the labyrinth, with its crumbling stone structures and mythical monsters.
Among the cast, newcomer Baquero is captivating as a child caught in two nightmarish worlds and our heart goes with her throughout the movie. Sergi Lopez is deliciously wicked as Capt Vidal – without ever going over the top with his role. Another actress who stand out is Verdu (of "Y tu Mama Tambien's"), while Alex Angulo plays a compassionate doctor.
THE LOWDOWN: This is not a movie for young children who may find the proceedings too violent and brutal. For adults and teens, however, it is an edge-of-the-seat fantasy-thriller. "Pan's Labyrinth" has won three Academy Awards for Art Direction, Makeup and Cinematography. That should say something about del Toro's effort.