Pan’s Labyrinth * * * * *


Director: Guillermo del Toro.
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro.
Starring: Sergi López, Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones, Ariadne Gil, Manolo Solo, Roger Casamajor.

Despite being quite a prominent name in cinema just now, director Guillermo del Toro hasn’t actually made that many movies. He came to attention in 1993 with his excellent feature debut “Cronos” before Hollywood quickly took note and employed him on such films as “Mimic” and “Blade II“. However, his strengths lie in his own original work where he retains creative control. Of which, there are three that really stand out; the aforementioned “Cronos” is one, “The Devil’s Backbone” another and “Pan’s Labyrinth” – which to this day, remains his masterpiece.

Following the Spanish Civil War in 1944, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves to a rural town with her pregnant mother (Ariadne Gil) to live with her Fascist military stepfather (Sergi López) who is determined to weed out resistance fighters to Franco’s dictatorship. It’s in this remote town that Ofelia meets a faun in the centre of a labyrinth who tells her that she is a princess. However, to claim her rightful place in this magical land she must perform certain gruesome tasks to prove her royalty.

It’s hard to pigeon hole a film like Pan’s Labyrinth as there are so many facets to it’s structure. On the one hand, it’s a political/historical drama and on the other it’s a fantasy/horror. Few (if any) films will spring to mind when these genres are mentioned in the same breath which reflects the very craftsmanship that’s at work here. One thing that you can undoubtedly count on, though, is it’s highly imaginative nature. Sure, we’ve had fantastical stories before where a young girl escapes her constrained life to enter bigger and more possible worlds. We’ve also had commentaries on the brutalities and restrictions of fascist regimes but to combine them into a wondrous journey of life, struggle and imagination is an amalgamation that I have rarely witnessed. Such is the case with this film and such is the skill of del Toro in his writing and handling of the material. He incorporates an abundance of childhood fantasies, from delving into books and mythology – that feature fauns and fairies – to the power of a piece of chalk on the wall. This may be built around the point of view of a child’s eye but its also not afraid to explore the darker recesses of that very imagination and construct some of the most monstrous creatures that can inhabit that realm. Del Toro is in absolute command here and he’s aided, immeasurably, by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro in capturing and contrasting his world within a world; one is a visually striking and enchanting fantasia, the other a stark and brutal reality. It’s a balance that’s difficult to achieve but with deft handling of coexisting genres, del Toro’s vision is able to come to fruition and manages to be both a reminder of the rigidity of fascism and the escapable ability of an imaginary youthful mind.
To embody the young protagonist, we are gifted an outstanding performance from Ivana Baquero who carries a heavy weight on her young shoulders and does so, with a skill beyond her years. Sergi Lopez also provides marvellous support as the bestial Captain Vidal who’s a smouldering villain that’s on a par with any of the war genre’s nastiest characters.
It’s very difficult to find criticism in this film as there simply, isn’t any. The only one that stands out is in the film’s title. It’s slightly misleading as “Pan” never actually features here. The original international title translates as “Labyrinth of the Fuan” which is probably the most pedantic gripe you’ll ever hear from me.

A stunning piece of work that’s both beautifully and horrifically executed. Modern masterpiece is a term that gets brandished around too often these days but this is one that’s certainly deserving of such praise.

Mark Walker


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71 Responses to “Pan’s Labyrinth * * * * *”

  1. I thought I was the only person who had seen Cronos. Did you ever see this short called Welcome to Bleak House? It is an interview and look inside his work space, amazing stuff. I think it might be on Youtube it’s part of the criterion collection. O yeah and I really liked Pan’s Labyrinth. ;-)

  2. Great review Mark. I can’t praise this film enough and I agree wholeheartedly with giving it full marks. Hands down one of my favourite films. With the title, Pan is the faun, is he not?

    • Cheers Chris. It is something special isn’t it. Caught it again last night on tv and it still reeks of absolute class. Yeah, the title’s misleading the faun in the film is not Pan. Apparently, in most countries the film doesn’t get this title it’s only in the UK and US I think. Del Toro himself has admitted that it’s not Pan.

  3. Agree, it is a modern masterpiece. I was blown away by it when I first saw it and reading this makes me want to watch it again. Nice review.

    • Thanks man. I hadn’t seen it myself for a while until I caught it again last night. I had always wanted to include it in my reviews and when the opportunity arose I couldn’t knock it back.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. A modern masterpiece, indeed. Fine look at this Mark.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! I absolutely love this film. Back on my old website I reviewed this movie and I think I gave it five stars as well. Talk about a difficult but rewarding movie to watch. It also features hands down one of the most detestable movie villains I’ve ever seen. Toss in the disturbing visuals and gritty tone and you have a phenomenal movie. I agree with you 100% Mark.

    • Excellent! Glad to hear you’re in agreement here bro. It’s a wonderful piece of cinema isn’t it? It has a little of everything and manages to blend them a seamlessly. It’s a magnificent achievement. You should check out del Toro’s Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone if you haven’t seen them. Not as good as this but still brilliant.

  6. I am wondering only one thing… Why haven’t I seen this movie!

    • That’s the very thing I’m wondering now as well. LOL
      You should make a point of it though. It’s absolutely superb. Thanks for dropping by and sharing what you’ve missed out on! ;-)

  7. ray brayne Says:

    Great flik. I always wondered why Del Toro stays with “creature” features. I think it must be a belief in the existence of hell and the devil. Children’s fairy tales fight the devil’s henchmen here on earth. Like Fascists and vampires.
    Nice write-up. Makes me want to re-see it.

    • Cheers Ray. Yeah, he does seem partial to the underworld doesn’t he? Even Hellboy comes into that. Thing is, when he does it so well why change the habit? Nothing compares to this one though. I loved Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone but this is just different class.

  8. Absolutely worthy of being called a masterpiece. It’s an incredible movie. One of my all time favorites. Spectacular and imiginative. Beutiful and horrendous at the same time, as you point out.

    Nice Review, Mark!

    • Cheers Fogs. It most certainly is an incredible movie. I’ve seen it a number of times now and it just gets better with every viewing. Del Toro has delivered something very special indeed here and it’ll last the test of time.

  9. Weird very weird but in Del Toro style very good :D

  10. Wow! 5 Stars!!!!
    Great stuff Mark, I loved this movie as well. I’ve only watched it once but I think it’s time to rewatch it.

    • It’s a definite 5 star movie Chris. I didn’t need to think twice about it. You should watch it again, it’s a film that gets better every time and has everything you could want from a film.

  11. This is one of those “I’d have to go back to my review to figure out why i didn’t give it an A-plus” movies.

  12. Despite its gruesome violence, I was very curious to see this and was definitely impressed by the visual creativity. It’s such a dark story that’s quite terrifying and gut-wrenching, but I’m glad I saw it. I totally get the high rating here Mark.

    • The violence was definitely gruesome Ruth. I can understand you not taking to that side of it but I thought it had a great balance between the darkness and potential light. I think it’s an absolutely superb film and I’ve yet to see anything that manages to combine genres as well as this does. It’s a personal favourite of mine. Outstanding! :-)

  13. Victor De Leon Says:

    Good piece, Mark. Nicely done.

  14. Glad to see this review being so positive – I too am a big big fan of this film!

  15. Five stars from Mark?? Well played sir!!! Definitely worthy of it!

  16. Couldn’t have said it better myself, excellent review. A modern classic to be sure. This was my first ever foreign film and it remains my favorite

  17. Great review, Marky! This one is truly something special. One of my favorite films.

  18. For what it’s worth, The Devil’s Backbone remains my favorite del Toro. It’s not as pretty or fanciful as Pan, but I like the story more, and I love the look of Santi.

    Saying that I like Pan’s less isn’t saying much, though–The Devil’s Backbone is one of my favorite all-time films.

    • The Devil’s Backbone is definitely a superb film. For me, it would be Pan’s that shades it as I really enjoyed the fantasy element but I can understand your reasons for choosing it. I’ve not came across many people that have actually seen The Devil’s Backbone never mind rating it so highly. Thanks for dropping in and commenting :-)

  19. Completely agree Mark. This movie is beautifully horrific, and that pretty much sums it up.

  20. Cronos is one of my favourites, got the Criterion edition. Great review for a great film and director. Nice site by the way, I am now following. I just started my own film blog and would appreciate it if you checked it out. Hopefully you’ll like what you see.

  21. Nice review Mark. I love this film too, so creative, and I’ll definitely watch it again in the future. I thought it was great the way that the real life scenes with the fascists were actually more appalling/scary than the horror/fantasy scenes. I’ve not actually seen anything else by him, even Hellboy which is supposed to be a decent watch. As for Pacific Rim…hmmmm. I’ll have to wait and see on that one.

    • Cheers man. Yeah, the fascists were definitely more brutal and horrific. I strongly suggest you check out Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone. Pan’s Labyrinth is his masterpiece in my eyes but those two were my introduction to him. Hellboy is also a very decent movie but I find his strengths lie in his own native language movies.

  22. One of my favorite movies ever – absolutely beautiful and seriously nothing bad to say about it at all. I thought it was called “Pan’s Labyrinth” BECAUSE of the faun though – because Pan has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat much like a faun. Devil’s Backbone is my 2nd favorite of his – haven’t seen Cronos yet, will add it to my list now.

    • I have nothing bad to say about it either Misty. The only one was the title. I used to think the faun was Pan but according to del Toro it isn’t Pan at all, so it leaves the title slightly misleading. “The Labyrith of the Faun” is the more accurate european title. Like i mention in my review, though. This is just being pedantic as the film’s practically flawless. Glad to hear you feel the same.

  23. I can’t think of a time I was more moved by a film’s ending. I couldn’t really find a fault in the film either. Just a joy.

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