Pan’s Labyrinth directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring – Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López
What happens when make-believe, believes it’s real?
Set in 1944 during the Falange, an imaginative young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), is sent to rural Spain with her ill and heavily pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) to live with her new stepfather (Sergi López), a sadistic captain of the Spanish army. Becoming enveloped in the fantasy world that inhabits an ancient maze nearby the captains house, a mystical faun tells her of her royal origins and sets her a series of tasks to prove herself as princess.
I’m a big time lover of del Toro’s work but just never got round to watching Pan’s Labyrinth. It appeared on Netflix so thought it was time to give it a watch. Initially I’d said to a friend I wasn’t going to review it till I’d watched it again, however, after some consideration I realised it would defeat the purpose if I wasn’t giving my first impressions of the film. So, without further ado, here we go.
I knew little about the film before watching, I’d studied scenes in college but it was completely out of context and I knew nothing of the narrative, I’d just assumed the entire film took place in a fantasy setting so when the film opened with a completely different exposition to what I’d expected I was initially intrigued. What I wish I’d known though is that the film is best described as an ‘adults fairytale’. Not knowing this I was honestly confused by the film. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t my kind of film, it was more just the complete opposite of what I’d expected. It threw me so my concentration was spent more on trying to get into the world of the film than what was actually happening.
The narrative has two central paths running at once, but other than both featuring the protagonist, Ofelia, the two storylines are completely separate. When I wasn’t expecting such a contrast I did find it really hard to gauge where the story was going, which is fine, it’s something completely new but it also meant I lost track of where I was when the story flicked from one trail to the other. The contrasting worlds took me by surprise anyway but for the complete lack of obvious link between the two tracks I found it really hard to settle into the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the film, the unexpectedness was something I enjoyed. I liked how it wasn’t something I’d thought it was going to be. As mentioned above, it’s best described as an ‘adults fairytale’ and I loved this. You’re thrown into the perspective of an imaginative child; she loves books, is obsessed with fairytales and is everything you’d expect a young girl to be. You see things from her perspective, including the fantasy world she becomes part of, you’ll be watching fairies dance and whisper to her and then out of nowhere someones face gets bashed in to the point its concave and you see it in all its gory glory. It’s amazing and again, completely unexpected.
The acting enhances the story so much, the sadistic captain Vidal is played so brilliantly by López that every frame he’s a part of makes you cringe, he makes you sit on the edge of your seat. Despite his villainous nature, he did make the film for me. Call me horrible, I don’t care. Ofelia annoyed me if I’m honest. As mentioned in my post about Stranger Things, I really dislike child actors and I just found her so irritating despite her being the central character. Regardless of that, she played her role well and if you can tolerate kids in films, she’s fine.
The film looks stunning as well, the cinematography is gloomy but means the fantasy elements seem so much brighter and more enchanting. The colours in Pan’s Labyrinth are almost what I imagine in my head when reading fairytales but with darker undertones of the adult themes running throughout the narrative. Ultimately I’d expect nothing less from del Toro, his clever use of cinematography and actor direction makes even the most innocent of scenes suddenly take on a tense and uncomfortable undertone.
So yeah, on the first watch I wasn’t overly enamoured with the film, but as mentioned I’d debated reviewing on the second watch. I will watch it again. I’m not put off it, for the amount that distanced me from the film there were also new and exciting elements that I would happily watch again. It’s no Crimson Peak but as a big time del Toro fan I want to give the time the film needs because I think his work is brilliant. The narrative threw me a little but that’s because del Toro has brought something completely new to the table that I haven’t watched before. I like new and I like del Toro, just be prepared for the unexpected.