Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro delivers a unique, richly imagined epic with "Pan's Labyrinth," a gothic fairy tale set against the postwar repression of Franco's Spain. Del Toro's sixth and most ambitious film, "Pan's Labyrinth" combines the historic and moral themes of his acclaimed Spanish Civil War ghost story "The Devil's Backbone" with the protean visual creativity and gripping dynamics of such previous films as "Hellboy" and "Blade II." Harnessing the formal characteristics of classic folklore to a 20th Century landscape, del Toro delivers a timeless tale of good and evil, bravery and sacrifice, love and loss.
"Pan's Labyrinth" unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia, a dreamy little girl who is uprooted to a rural military outpost commanded by her new stepfather. Powerless and lonely in a place of unfathomable cruelty, Ofelia lives out her own dark fable as she confronts monsters both otherworldly and human. As Ofelia, the gifted young Spanish actress Ivana Baquero holds the screen with a remarkable combination of innocence and maturity, vulnerability and strength. Baquero is joined by a superb cast that includes international stars Sergí Lopez ("Dirty Pretty Things"), Maribel Verdú ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") and Ariadna Gil (Belle Epoque"), as well as frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones ("Hellboy").
A lone automobile travels a narrow road in the Spanish countryside in 1944. In the back seat, a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) are on their way to their new home. A bright and dreamy little girl, Ofelia keeps her precious books of fairy tales close at hand, despite Carmen's gentle admonition that it may be time for her to put away these childhood favorites. It is unlikely that such pastimes will meet the approval of Ofelia's new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergí Lopez). And Carmen, who is pregnant with the captain's child, is anxious for her daughter to get along with the man to whom she has entrusted their future.
But for Ofelia, fables of good and evil, magic and danger are more than simple entertainment. They are her window onto the world, awakening her to life's everyday possibilities and mysteries. When a dragonfly captures Ofelia's attention during a roadside stop, it is not a gangly insect that she follows into the woods but a glistening emerald ambassador, welcoming her to its domain.
There is little sense of welcome, however, when Ofelia and her mother finally arrive at their destination, an abandoned mill in rural Spain that Vidal has converted into a military headquarters. Though Captain Vidal is there to greet them, his annoyance at their late arrival is palpable. Indeed, there is nothing in the officer's cold, exacting demeanor to suggest that he wishes to be a parent to Ofelia, whose own father died several years ago. What Vidal wants is the son that Carmen is carrying, not a family.
On the grounds of the mill, armed soldiers are everywhere. Charged with rooting out resistance fighters in the nearby mountains, Vidal and his troops zealously pursue any and all signs of their opponents. Thus far, the rebels have managed elude capture, though fascists have solidified their power in the region. Those local people who clean and cook for the soldiers do their work quietly, speaking only when they are spoken to. Carmen, her condition already precarious, grows even sicker and is soon confined to her bed.
In this tense and fearful environment, Ofelia finds a sympathetic presence in the housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), who shows her a rambling, neglected old garden near the mill. With its winding paths, it is a lovely place to wander, though one can easily become lost there after nightfall. That garden labyrinth will become Ofelia's haven, a dark refuge from loneliness and sorrow. It is a place of fantastical creatures and powerful talismans, presided over by a teasing, inscrutable Faun (Doug Jones). Here, Ofelia will come to terms with the world as she now knows it - and with the monsters that live not only in her imagination, but in her daily life.
STARRING: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil, Maribel Verdú, Álex Angulo, Roger Casamajor, Sebastián Haro, Mina Lira, Federico Luppi, Ivan Massagué, Chema Ruiz, Manolo Solo, Milo Taboada
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro
RATING: R (For intense violence and language)
LANGUAGE: In Spanish with English subtitles
Wild About Movies Grade: A-