I finally watched Pan’s Labyrinth.
I’m terrified. Guillermo Del Toro’s war-time fantasy is a captivating double-play of fairytale dilemma and autocratic monstrosity, creating beauty and paranoia no matter the dimension. A milhouse within an enchanting forest is run by Franco’s murderous soldiers during WWII, and co-exists beside a grotesquely beautiful fantasy world, home to its own murderous psychopaths.
Both are a reality to the young and imaginative Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who is to live in the mill with her mother. We share her fear for the real-world: the horrors of volatile sadists; the anxieties of treacherous allies; just as we share her curiosity of an equally volatile forested fairy tale which she’s been lured into, Guillermo masterfully ensuring our terror is synonymous in both realities.
The blending of fairy tale and reality is made to feel interchangeable, conveying the wolves among the forests. Both the fantasy-world and the milhouse provide dangers, boundaries and rules that are fearfully administered, whether by a creaking, nightmarish faun (Doug Jones) that’s fresh out of a forested fever dream, or a sadistic, military stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López).
When Ofelia is led to the labyrinth, she learns of her magical, royal heritage. To prove her Birth Given Royalty to the magical realm, Ofelia is tasked with a series of gruesome initiations, the likes of which are equally as dangerous as the treachery occurring within the milhouse walls. The worlds are symmetrical to Ofelia, encapsulated with bloodthirsty monsters and the confines of mortality.
The constant anxiety of this tormented me. I praise Guillermo del Toro for his ability to conjure such a feeling of hypnotic fear for 118 minutes.
Guillermo del Toro is a man known for precision and attention to detail. His costume and character designs are flawless, adhering to suits and makeup rather than CGI. Whether it be a creaking tree-like faun (Doug Jones) or a loose-skinned pale man with portable eyeballs (Doug Jones, again), both will summon the fear of God in you. Accompanied by award-winning D.O.P. Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth is lit with a fantasy-style hue which is as charming as the dream it no doubt originated from.
Its beauty is particularly apparent during the fluorescent blue nights where Ofelia, born from the Moon, looks to be guided by the entity that gave her life. It’s only when there is no magic left in the room that the lighting becomes harsh and monotone, the colour stricken away from the world when mortality becomes monstrous. A masterpiece in graphic storytelling, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most visually compelling films I’ve ever seen.
Other than making Martin Scorsese (supposedly) squirm in his seat during its premiere screening, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is hailed for its tantalising portrayal of real-world monsters only a slide-cut away from fantasy horrors, ultimately unifying the two realms. Its storytelling is visually captivating whilst uncomfortably stressful, gorgeous and grotesque. Seen through the eyes of innocent princess Ofelia, Guillermo del Toro invokes a feeling of anxiety in you that exists in all great fairy tales:
charm of the forest; fear of the wolf.
You’ll love this.