Disclaimer: I am a close friend and business partner with the
creator of this film so feel free to assume my vision is clouded and influenced
by my love for the guy. It’s understandable, especially in this world wily web
we exist on and its mercenary allegiances. Still, this is my from-the-heart-and-brain
take and I hope you agree it’s genuine. You can disregard this and then read
all of the other reviews which support my stance, but you have every reason to
be wary. I’d do the same were I in your shoes.
I first had a look
at a nice chunk of this film in the editing room as the effects were being
finalized and the sound mix and color timing was being hammered out. What I saw
was breathtaking, beautiful, and brutal but that slimy Mexican cat left a few
surprises and moments out and as a result I was blindsided a few times when I
saw the finished film in Los Angeles a few weeks ago [without him having to
translate every line of Spanish for my uneducated American ears]. It was an
electric atmosphere, being there with some other choice webfolks and some truly
monumental filmmakers, writers, artists, and actors. I felt the need to share
my take on this little flick, so here it is. You’ve been warned, even though
I’m totally correct here. A 22 minute standing ovation at
applause wasn’t as long but only because everyone gave Guillermo the bum’s rush
to ask questions about the damn thing.
Labyrinth is like being in the eye of a tornado. It’s the only safe
place. Danger and darkness lie in wait in every direction you look but there’s
an incredible power and beauty to the wickedness around you that’s not only
impossible not to watch, but absolute
in its effectiveness. There is so much menace around our central character, the
young and wide-eyed Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), that you’d expect the fantasy world
she enters to be an escape. Instead, the terror of the girl’s real world is
only the beginning. To say that this isn’t a kid’s fantasy film is an
understatement but at the same time I know it’s the kind of movie that would
have heavily influenced me as a youth had I seen it. There’s so much imagination at play and no punches pulled, something that showcases a film that could only be made thousands of miles from Los Angeles. There’s so much beauty even in the ugly things and so much utter confidence in every frame of this that it’ll be the film that really sets Guillermo del Toro as one of the premier directors this generation will see.
and her mother begin the story traveling to the military outpost in the
mountains where her stepfather leads a group of fascist soldiers picking away
at a ragtag rebel force. The mother is pregnant, painfully so as the travel is
almost too much for her to handle. The daughter is fearful of her new parent, a
ruthless and despicable man who looks at women as mere breeding grounds and
subservient. Her mother, a kind woman, is simply a vessel to bring the man a
son. Ofelia is the worst sort of nuisance to the man, not of his making and
incapable of carrying his name. Immediately upon arriving, her interest is
piqued by what is most definitely not an ordinary insect, an encounter that
ultimately awakens her to a world of fairies and horrible beasts and a faun who
tells her of her link to a long gone princess. Ofelia is given an antidote to
her grim reality in a series of tasks doled out by Pan himself, but the deeper she goes into the fantasy the more dangerous
it becomes. To say more would be unfair.
has always danced in world of metaphors, and his first story set against
this kind of oppressive backdrop mixed with the fantastic was the classic The
Devil’s Backbone. This is darker, richer, and more emotionally
affecting, which is saying something. The amount of detail is astounding and this film’s balance of the real and
surreal is so deft that neither storyline ever falters or forced to carry the
workload. Both stories are strong enough to support their own film and with the
amazing and truly scary performance by Sergi
López as the fascist stepfather [The Fascist Stepfathers, there’s a punk band if I’ve ever heard of
one] and Ivana Baquero’s great work as our tour guide into the world of Pan the film really emerges as a legitimate acting showcase as well.
Then there’s the creatures. I won’t ruin it for anyone, but the creatures in this film [some of which are obviously shown in this article] range from whimsical to downright nightmare inducing, and there’s a nice mix of them. Seeing this, one can only dream of what del Toro’s adaptation of Mountains of Madness would be like.
goes without saying that this film is the current high water mark for Guillermo
del Toro as a writer and director, it’s the sum of his career thus far in the
best way possible and it seems that all the skills he amassed from Cronos
have led to this logical conclusion. It’s his most mature work and what I
consider his most resoundingly effective. It’s a work of deep emotion and
shattering evil both overt and sublime. Heartbreaking but filled with awe and unsupressed imagination.
everyone who considers the filmmaker one of horror and fantasy’s most wicked
and talented visionaries, that assumption hits paydirt here but the real
strength and revelation in Pan’s Labyrinth is not in its
haunting and complex visions of the tapestry of the world but in its adherence
to the things all too real and fleeting. Beneath the grimy beasts and cold-eyed
killers is a heart that is pounding with love for childhood and the bond of
family and a world where dreaming doesn’t carry a stiff penalty. He may be one
of the genre’s luminaries but it’s the fact that del Toro digs deep into his
softer side that makes this something that film viewers doesn’t see often: A
legitimate classic, genre be damned.
got his work cut out, topping this one.