Pan’s Labyrinth

It’s 1944 and Spain’s currently under the rule of a fascist regime. Not exactly the best place for the young, imaginative and inquisitive Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, Fragile) to grow up, but right in the middle of this horrible world is where she finds herself after her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil, The Absent) moves in with the sadistic Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez, Dirty Pretty Things). Living among the horrors of war, Ofelia seemingly dreams up a whole separate life for herself where she’s the lost princess of an underground kingdom and, to get back to her “real” life, all she has to do is complete three tasks for the Faun (Doug Jones, Adaptation).
By far the most personal of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s (Blade II) films, Pan’s Labyrinth is also, without a doubt, his best. The story works on classic themes of fairytales and fantasy, while seamlessly mixing in a well-crafted look at life during war. Never once does he try to reinvent or change anything about either genre, respecting their strengths and timelessness, and only adding to each by combining the two. Visually, too, Del Toro is at his peak. His dark style (most notably influenced by comic artists like Hellboy creator Mike Mignola) is taken up a notch and feels both awe-inspiring and creepy. Also to note is his remarkably subtle, yet nevertheless effective, division between the dreary tones of the real world and the slightly livelier feel of the fantastic, that makes it out-of-this-world yet believable.
The cast are all exceptional, but Baquero deserves extra props for really holding the show together with a heart-warming and excellent performance. We see great things in this young woman’s future. Other outstanding cast members include Lopez, who is utterly despicable as the Captain, and Jones, whose body language conveys more than most actors could with their words.
A simply outstanding film that works on pretty much every level, Pan’s Labyrinth is immersive, compelling and heartbreaking. Miss this at your own peril.