Pan's Labyrinth is a visually stunning dark fairytale from talented Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Set against the backdrop of Fascist Spain in 1944 a young girl escapes from the violence and upheaval around her by disappearing into a frightening and captivating fantasy world.
The film opens like a fairytale recounting the story of a young princess, daughter of the king of the underworld, who leaves her home to live among the mortals above. Though she dies her sprit enters a human being and according to legend she will one day return to take her place at her father's side in the underworld. We are then introduced to Ofelia and her mother Carmen as they journey through the forest on their way to live with Ofelia's new stepfather the intimidating Captain Vidal.
Ofelia's mother is heavily pregnant and dangerously ill and they struggle to settle into their new home. Guerrilla rebels are operating in the hills and forests around them and the ruthless Captain Vidal is charged with catching them. As the fairy tale obsessed Ofelia is left to her own devices much of the time she begins to delve into a rich fantasy world populated by fairies, monsters and a talking faun. It transpires that Ofelia is the mortal incarnation of the princess but she must perform three tasks before she can return to the underworld.
Reality crashes back in with a heavy blow when Ofelia's mother takes a turn for the worse and her stepfather becomes increasingly hostile and suspicious. As the battle between Franco's troops and the rebels intensifies so too does the difficulty of the tasks facing Ofelia. The two tales intertwine and build towards a bittersweet ending.
Guillermo del Toro both wrote and directed this film and he does a wonderful job. Pan's Labyrinth is beautiful to behold and del Toro effortlessly weaves together the history and politics of the fascist regime with Ofelia´s somewhat macabre fantasy world. The film is very disturbing in places both in it's graphic depiction of torture and violence in the rebel struggle and in the fantasy world which is inhabited by some terrifying and grotesque creatures.
As with many of del Toro's films CGI plays a big part here and he really knows how to use it. The standard of the visual effects is deeply impressive and they blend seamlessly with the fantastic costume and set design. The same attention to detail is applied both to recreating Fascist Spain and to conjuring up a breathtaking fantasy world.
The stubborn and headstrong Ofelia is played by Ivana Baquero and based on this performance it seems likely she has a long and successful career ahead of her. Ariadna Gil plays her mother, Carmen, Maribel Verdu is excellent as Mercedes the head maid of the household and Sergi Lopez is altogether too convincing as the emotionless and thoroughly evil Captain Vidal.
Pan's Labyrinth is essentially a tale of good versus evil. The fantasy events and characters reflect the realities impacting on young Ofelia's life and the two threads have more in common than is immediately apparent. The vision of del Toro is masterfully achieved here, the pacing is perfect, the musical score is excellent and I was captivated for the full 119 minutes.