Here’s the latest in the occasional series of films I should have seen years ago. I wasn’t consciously avoiding it, but for some reason I managed to go six years without this experience.
Magical, terrible, wonderful, beautiful. Unforgettable.
Five years after the Spanish Civil War, a young girl named Ofelia moves with her mother from the city to a remote military outpost to join her new stepfather, the brutal and sadistic Captain Vidal, whose mission is to eradicate the Maquis rebels in the nearby woods. To escape from the difficulties of her new life, she descends into a fantasy world populated by strange creatures, where a faun presents her with three challenges that will show her true identity. But despite the protestations of her mother and stepfather, is this magical underworld real after all?
I could write a book about this film and not do it justice. Watching Pan’s Labyrinth for the first time is a truly magical experience, filled with terror and sadness and revulsion and such stark beauty as to bring tears to your eyes. This is the pinnacle of Guillermo del Toro’s career as an artist, solidifying all the themes and influences of his previous works; the fairy-tale worlds, the child protagonists, the monsters both human and not. Not one moment of the film is wasted. Whether it’s the biggest speech or the smallest gesture, everything is in service of the character and, by extension, the telling of this story.
The cast are impeccable, from Sergi Lopez as the merciless and psychopathic Vidal, to Maribel Verdu as Mercedes, the captain’s housekeeper and a rebel spy who bonds with Ofelia. Then there is Doug Jones as both The Faun and The Pale Man, the two monstrous creations for which the film deservedly won a Best Makeup Oscar. The standout is, of course, eleven-year-old Ivana Baquero as Ofelia herself. It’s a revelatory performance, full of grace and utter fearlessness.
I’m actually pissed at myself for waiting this long. There’s a lot more I want to say, but unfortunately I’m on a deadline here. Maybe I will write that book one day after all.