Longest blog title ever! Well, you know that kid, right? Not the one that smells kind of funny, no, not that kind of creepy. Kind of like the kid that's always saying really bizarre stuff, while his dead, terrible eyes stare vacantly into the distance, fixed upon a fiery horizon that calls only to him with a thousand wailing mouths. Whoa, ok, maybe not that creepy. Well, yes, maybe a little bit that creepy. It's pretty creepy for a children's movie, and I probably haven't seen a family movie this overtly dark and disturbingly fantastical since The Dark Crystal came out the year I was born.
Released in 2006, this Spanish-language dark fantasy was directed by Guillermo Del Toro and released under the Spanish title El Labertino del Fauno, though in English they released it as Pan's Labryinth. I have to say, I really hate spelling "labyrinth." Oh well. I'll have to do it a lot during the course of this post, so I suppose I'll have to get used to it. The film stars newcomer Ivana Baquero as the main lead, a young girl named Olivia whose mother marries a Spanish captain. Captain Vidal was played by Sergi López i Ayats, a Spanish actor known primarily for his comedic films. Ofelia's mother was played by Adriana Gil, and Ofelia must save her mother and unborn brother from an unknown evil, with the help of the Faun, played by Doug Jones. He's basically the best part of the film, playing the Faun and the disturbing and horrible Pale Man. Doug Jones is well-known in the cinema world for his amazing costumes and long, wiry, extremely creepy way of portraying these characters. He absolutely disappears into both roles, and he barely seems human in movement or action.
Ofelia and her mother are summoned by her mother's new husband, the mysterious and dangerous Captain Vidal. Carmen, Ofelia's mother, is extremely pregnant with the captain's son, Ofelia's half-brother. Ofelia has a vivid imagination, and begins seeing a fairy around the woods. The beginning of the film tells a fairy tale about a princess from the Underground Realm that escapes to our world, is blinded by the sun and weakened to the point of death. The King of the Underground Realm hopes she will return. On the Captain's homestead, Carmen gets sick, and Ofelia hears some murmurs of a rebellion against the government (the film is set in post-Civil War Spain), and wanders into the woods, following the fairy. She finds the ruins of a maze, where she meets the Faun, who claims she is the Princess from the fairy tale that opened the film. She must accomplish three tasks before the full moon to save her mother and return to her "real home," the Underground Realm. She must face various dangers, demons, and generally strange things. Also, it turns out that Captain Vidal is kind of a sociopath, who tortures a rebel, and when the doctor euthanizes the captive, Vidal kills him, as well. Carmen dies delivering Vidal's son, and the Faun advises her to take him to the labyrinth, where she can return to the Underground Realm with the blood of an innocent. Her decision proves to be the final test, but will she make the right choice? Of course, I know what she does. But it's a new-ish movie, so I'm not telling!
The film is epic and fantastic. It blends the fantastic elements of traditional fairy tales with the backdrop of the 1944 Spanish Civil War, although I'm admittedly pretty ignorant of that entire situation. It is a very dark and foreboding tale of magic and mystery, which is a welcome change from all the Disneyfied fairy tales that everyone's so used to. It's much more reminiscent of the traditional, original Grimm versions of fairy tales, full of death, war, fear, and unstable families. The characters are interesting, relatively well-developed, and have clear intentions and personalities that make their motivations clear. I have issues with subtitled films to a certain extent, but not in a really negative way. Unfortunately, since I don't speak Spanish, I spend half my time reading the subtitles (which I like, because I like to read). However, I have to focus on the words, so I sometimes feel like I'm missing some subtle nuances in character reactions, movement, expression, not to mention mise-en-scéne and camera work (which in Guillermo Del Toro films is usually quite fascinating and often times breathtaking). On the other hand, I really don't like dubbing the English track, because I feel like I'm missing the original actors emotions and subtleties of voice (which I can still discern, even though it's not English). There's give and take, in general, and benefits to watching a film in its original language with subtitles, or dubbed over in English, but lacking the actual actor's vocal subtleties. It's kind of like reading a book that was written in another language. Overall, it would be best to be fluent in whatever language it is, so nothing is missed. Unfortunately, I'm just fluent in English, so my options are limited.
Anyway! I really enjoyed this film. I grew up with stuff like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, so it's no small wonder that a deeply disturbing and dark magical realistic film like this would catch my eye. It's visually stunning and arresting, with amazing special effects, both in terms of CGI and in make-up (by the amazing Doug Jones). It's worth four creepy, eyeless, child-eating monsters in dark hallways out of five, or four evil, sociopathic, manipulative Spanish Civil War Captains out of five.