I have known about this film for years, but I have not really thought about it until just recently. I first heard about it as part of a trailer for the film’s showing on Film4. The only other times I have heard about it is that my Brother kept saying that he has yet to see it. I first took proper notice in August 2011 but it was just a few weeks ago that I decided to watch it. From visionary Director (one of only a few in Cinema today) Guillermo del Toro who has directed films including Blade 2 and Hellboy comes an(Award Winning) Amazing World (except for the Spanish setting obviously) where the idea of escaping a cruel world with our imagination comes to life.
The film begins with a story of a princess who left her world below the real world. She forgot who she was and died, but her soul returned to a girl called Ofelia (unaware at this time) who is on her way to her new home in the country with her pregnant mother to live with her new Stepfather (A Captain of an outpost in the post civil war early years of Franco’s Spain). Ofelia likes to read Fairytales and believes in Magic. While the car they ride in stops for her mother to throw up, Ofelia finds a strange plinth and witnesses a strange bug come out which she thinks is a Fairy. When they arrive at the outpost she meets her new stepfather and the head of housekeeping Mercedes. In the nearby forest Ofelia finds a strange Maze.
The following evening the Insect returns and becomes a fairy, it leads Ofelia into the Labyrinth where she meets a Faun (at no point in the film does its name get revealed, it could be Pan or it might not have a name, it is only called Pan on the DVD description). The Faun tells her that she might be the princess of the underworld but she needs to complete 3 tasks to prove it. Meanwhile her Stepfather reveals his true self when he mercilessly kills 2 farmers who he thinks were rebels. The following Morning Ofelia gets a nice dress from her mother. Ofelia goes off to complete the first task which involves putting 3 stones in a Giant Toads mouth who has made its home in a dying tree. She puts her dress on a branch to keep it safe and crawls into the tree roots. While the Captain and everyone down at the mill are preparing for a big feast, Ofelia finds the Toad and gets it to eat the stones (which look like curled up bugs). The creature dies when it throws up its stomach. On the stomach Ofelia finds a key and crawls out of the tree where she sees her dress on the floor in the mud. Back at the outpost The Captain, Ofelia’s Mother and several other local people are having a big feast where more of the Captains cruel inside are starting to come to the surface. Ofelia is found by Mercedes and her Mum is not happy.
Ofelia’s mum falls ill with her unborn son not helping her health. The Faun returns to Ofelia and gives her a root. He tells her to put it in fresh milk and put it under her Mum’s bed and give it two drops of blood every day. He also gives her a piece of chalk, an hourglass and three fairies to help her achieve her next task but instructs her not to eat any of the food where she is going and to return before the hourglass finishes. Ofelia puts the root in fresh milk and it comes to life, she then draws a door on a wall and enters a strange hallway. Inside she finds a table with a full feast on it and a strange creature (pale man) with no eyes at the far end of it. The creature is not moving and Ofelia observes the horrible artwork on the ceiling. The fairies point towards three key holes and instruct Ofelia to open which one; Ofelia opens the correct door and begins to leave, before she does though she eats two grapes thinking it won’t make a difference. Behind her the creature begins to move and has its eyes in its hands. It eats two of the fairies and chases after Ofelia. The door closes as the hourglass finishes. Ofelia draws a hatch on the ceiling and escapes just before the creature reaches her.
Over the course of the next few days her mum begins to recover and Mercedes along with the Doctor meet up with the rebels in the forest who are planning to attack the outpost. One of them is Mercedes Brother. The captain finds the root but does not see the Magic and hands it to Ofelia’s Mum, who throws it on the fire. The Captain begins torturing a Rebel Suspect and kills the doctor. Ofelia’s brother is born but her mum dies. The Faun returns to Ofelia but finds out what happened with the task and says he will not return and Ofelia will stay as a mortal. Mercedes decides to try and run away, she takes Ofelia with her but is caught by the Captain, He locks Ofelia in her room and Tries to torture Mercedes but gets horribly disfigured by a knife she was secretly holding. Mercedes flees and is almost caught but the Rebels find and save her.
The Faun returns to Ofelia and says she has one last chance but must obey his orders without question. She agrees and the Faun tells her to get her brother and meet him in the Labyrinth. The rebels begin to attack the outpost and the captain chases after Ofelia. Ofelia finds the Faun who says he needs innocent blood to open the portal. Ofelia refuses and wants to take her Brother with her. The Captain finds her seemingly talking to herself as the Faun leaves her. The captain takes his son and shoots Ofelia. The captain is found by the Rebels and Mercedes who take his son and Kill him. Mercedes finds Ofelia in the maze lying dead and sings her a lullaby. Ofelia’s blood drips into the portal and Ofelia enters her underworld kingdom where her Father and Mother are along with the Faun and Fairy. The king tells her that she completed the final task by spilling her own blood instead that of an innocent. This proves that she is the princess. In the real world Mercedes cries for Ofelia. A narration at the end tells of how Ofelia ruled with a kind heart for many centuries and left traces of her in the real world for those who knew her where to look.
The setting of the film is an interesting blend of reality and make-believe. The fantasy world does take a back seat to the rest of the film but this does show the need for it, because life for Ofelia is so cruel that she needs a reason to escape and so it is the same for the audience too and as such it is both a welcome break and a reassuring sight. Both the design and the story for the fantasy world do take inspiration from fairytales and work beautifully but it is interesting how it is embedded into the setting. It is like it is part of the world but at the same time not. Ofelia could be imagining it but there are plenty of parts which show it’s reality to the scene. If you take the toad scene, Ofelia is crawling through the root of the tree and finds the creature. When encountering the pale man monster (who looks very similar to the Blue Man from Hellboy) she crawls through the floor to escape and when she shuts the trap door you can hear knocks like the creature is pounding to get out but you also need to remember she has returned to her house and so those could be noises downstairs instead of within the floorboards. The only evidence of reality we have is the underworld kingdom where she becomes a princess. She cannot be making it up as a dream, she is dead so it could be an interpretation of heaven or a fairytale heaven or it may still exist in the world and her spirit has become a being just like how her spirit left originally through the same portal.
The film’s characters are all a nice blend. Ivana Baquero is great as Ofelia and portrays her well. Sergi López i Ayats is a great villain. The captain is so cold and horrible you just have no sympathy for the character in any way and you just want him to die, which thankfully he does. There are not many villains like that these days which are obviously bad people and not just bad because their bosses are bad or made to do bad things. Maribel Verdú plays Mercedes who is opposite to the Captain and has a reassuring, caring side while also having this sad worry to her as she worries about her brother.
By far the best character though is the Faun (played by Doug Jones). From his first appearance he has a reassuring side as if everything is safe. You have this nice feeling that while the world is cruel it is not always that and when he is a round it is anything but. However this does bring up an interesting question of trust, particularly when you trust creatures that are not human. If you met a faun, would you instantly trust it and do as it says? Obviously you would be a bit wary of it and maybe after time you may begin to trust it, but really, would you trust it instantly?
Pan’s Labyrinth is not for everyone and does contain some gruesome scenes (but this is a Guillermo Del Toro film). While it may not be for everyone it is a film that is a welcome addition to any film collection. A nice blend of Fantasy and Reality with some Amazing Creatures, Great Characters and a Fantastic Story. You may love it, you may hate it, but I recommend it because you may want to Escape Reality to that Maze in the Garden.