Watching the unique explosions of Guillermo del Toro's mind realise themselves on screen is truly astounding.
Forget the fauns and faeries of Narnia, Pan's Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro's re-visioning of the mythical, is a decidedly darker, more earthy affair. Mr Tumnus would feel very lost in this neck of the woods.
It's 1944, and amidst the oppression of General Franco's reign, 11-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves with her heavily pregnant mother to a mountainous Spanish outpost. She is to live with her newly acquired father, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a cold brute of a man in charge of quelling local resistance to the fascist regime.
Having no control over her volatile surroundings, Ofelia's imagination begins to manifest itself amongst the tatters of real life, offering her the opportunity to escape the troubles of the war, and help the ones she loves.
But Ofelia's world of the fantastic owes more to Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures than CS Lewis' snowbound Neverland. Its inhabitants are nymphet fairies, grotesque toads and a lurid faun, all painted in bruised and muddied colours. Here, people and creatures are not to be trusted, and this sense of unease is only heightened by the innocent perspective of Ofelia through which the story unfolds.
Always one to keep us guessing, del Toro continually blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination, with the creatures of the underworld blending with frightening ease into the chaos up above. In fact, while many of Ofelia's apparent imaginings are gruesome, they are hardly the grimmest aspect of the story. The most monstrous creation is the Captain himself; his savage conviction is more shocking than any child-eating blind beast that can be conjured.
Yet del Toro is measured enough to hold back when needs be. Although he can produce fantasy on a huge scale, it is the attention to detail – every sound, every creak, every flutter – coupled with the ability to evoke a genuinely gripping sense of tension, that allows the film to sit squarely in a vivid and all too terrifying reality.
Pan's Labyrinth packs a potent punch; visually stunning, utterly compelling and emotionally absorbing. The tale of a young girl lost in a mad world might not grab you as the most original of concepts, but watching the unique explosions of del Toro's mind realise themselves on screen is truly astounding.
A Grimm fairytale from the man that brought us Hellboy. Cool.
An unexpectedly shocking mix of fantasy and heart-breaking reality, expressed in an all too vivid manner.
Truly compelling viewing; sucks you in and refuses to spit you out.