Okay, I've been sitting on this review for the whole week, partly because I've actually been busy at work, and partly because I was not really sure how I feel after seeing Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro's new Spanish language part-fantasy, part-allegorical film that opens in North America on December 29th 2006. (The movie's title seems to make more sense in its' original Spanish El Laberinto del Fauno.
In brief, the story follows a girl Ofelia as she is transported with her pregnant mother to the middle of the woods to live with her new evil-stepfather, a Captain in the post-war Spanish Facist Army in 1944. Or something like that. I took Architecture. Not history, and I barely read, so I'm not exactly schooled in this stuff (but if you ask me what buildings were around at the time and what it all meant, I'm sure I can rant something off to you).
Still, all we need to know is that Ofelia is holed up in this place run by a megalomaniac who is fighting off a group of freedom fighters. Ofelia finds a labyrinth, and meets a talking Faun (in legends, named Pan, thus the English title), who thinks that she is the long-lost princess of an underworld, and sets her on a quest to prove herself as the "one".
From there, we move back and forth between the harsh and ugly realities of the real world under the psychopath's command, and a fantasy world only Ofelia seems to realize is there. However, the fantasy is not of Disney fairy tales, but mostly of questionable moral sides if not completely dark and evil itself. Essentially, this is not a happy film.
Still, Del Toro creates a film deep in luscious but dark imagery in a story that continually surprises and enchants and horrifies. The visuals are amazing and the special effects are probably too effective, as I found too many scenes way too graphic in its horrific violence. Yes, Ofelia's stepfather is EVIL. We GET IT. We don't need to see him continually being EVIL. Not THAT graphically at least (I've always been in the camp of suggestion, where less is more, both in film violence and film sex. I really don't need to see it all).
I also felt that there were points in the movie where I tended to want to scream at the screen to stop the stupidity of some of it's protagonist characters as they were about to do something very wrong. That's fine, but I felt sometimes they seemed like they wrote it in because it was the only way to further the story direction they wanted to go at that point (like when Ofelia goes through the chalk door and that whole sequence). Plus, some of the fantastical sequences also only seem to be there for no other purpose than to add mood and don't further the plot at all (again, with the whole chalk door sequence as the prime example).
Still, Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully made tragic fantasy that is much more realistic than the ads lead you to believe. I was still appalled by the level and details of the violence within the film (and the audience which seemed to "ew" and "yech" just as much as I did probably felt the same) but at the same time, I was completely enthralled within the movie and fascinated by the whole story.
8.5/10 or B+