‘Labyrinth’ a fairy tale with a twist




Set in 1944’s post-Civil War Spain, the movie merges the real and fantastic with flawless lucidity vaguely reminiscent of Del Toro’s work in Hellboy.  Clearly expressing his fondness for the macabre, Del Toro wrote, produced, and directed this grim tale of a young girl who travels with her pregnant mother to live with El Capitán, a psychotic Franconian fascist controlling a military outpost.  Depending on how the viewer interprets the story, the movie takes a turn for the surreal as Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) descends into an utterly creepy lair and meets a faun named Pan.

According to Pan, Ofelia is the daughter of the king of the underworld, and has at last been found.  Strangely collected, Ofelia continues to listen to Pan as he explains the various trials she must overcome in order to prove that she is not mortal, so that she may

return to her kingdom.  Labyrinth tells the story of Ofelia’s phantasmagoric journey, interweaving the young girl’s fantasy with the horrors of real-life guerrilla warfare and brutality.

On another level, the movie deals with the nature of fascism and the effects it has on a people.  Played brilliantly by Sergi López (Dirty Pretty Things), Capitán Vidal is a ruthless nationalist willing to kill anybody in the way of his pride and fascist dream for Spain.  Though CGI and animatronics are at their best to create some horrendous creatures, El Capitán is by far the scariest of them all.  With no remorse whatsoever, he mercilessly tortures and kills, taking the thrilling plot to places uncharted by most directors.

The story flows well, transporting the viewer back and forth between Ofelia’s magical realm and the gritty world that surrounds her.  The movie, unlike many in the fantasy genre, is not purely a visual feast.  It provides character interaction, and a real plot that satisfies one’s craving for quality entertainment.

At times, however, the movie drags despite its reasonable two-hour length.  While there is plenty of mysticism in the plotline, the characters lack the charm and relatability of those in other great Spanish-language films (Como Agua Para Chocolate, Amores Perros).  This particularly detracts from the film, which features a language more suited to drama and romance.

What the film lacks in charm, it makes up with in stellar performances.  Although she is only twelve years old, Ivana Baquero delivers a performance that rivals those of her American counterpart Dakota Fanning.  Acting equally well, Maribel Verdú brings emotion to the movie through her brilliant portrayal of Mercedes, the caretaker.  Of course, at the core of the movie is Sergi López’s chilling performance.  Of interesting note, Doug Jones, the only non-Spanish speaker on the set, went through incredible difficulty in memorizing his and Baquero’s lines (all in Spanish).

Ultimately, Labyrinth’s clever examination of fantasy as an escape from despotism has its ups and downs.  From great acting to breathtaking cinematography, the movie exemplifies all that a great fantasy movie is.  As a Spanish-language film however, it truly lacks the raw power and mind-stimulating creativeness brought by Almodóvar, Cuarón, or González Iñárritu.  Overall, Pan’s Labyrinth proves to be an entertaining movie, much more than a simple fairy tale, but not one for the ages.