Pan’s Labyrinth Review

With mystical beasts roaming the dingy, disturbing screen, Pan’s Labyrinth sets itself apart from other, contemporary monster-oriented movies. The horrors are teetering on brilliance from time to time, as Guillermo del Toro directs us through his disturbingly exceptional mind. Detailing the story of a young girl attempting to reunite with her deceased father, the trials and tribulations she must face before this reunion are captured with clarity and an assured, strong message at the core of it all. Set to the backdrop of some truly horrid characters, the clashes and consistencies between monster and man is highlighted with stark and unashamed quality. Pan’s Labyrinth is more than just thematics, though, and at its core has such beauty hidden away in the dark recesses of its war-torn forests. 

One such brilliance comes from the design and characteristics that breach the mind of del Toro. His ability to craft beautiful, superbly endearing and memorable characters is a testament to his work as a director. Previous encounters with his work have been less than fruitful, but the creature design of The Shape of Water is paired with a narrative worthy of praise throughout Pan’s Labyrinth. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) provides a superb leading performance, one that is indeed worthy of vast swathes of praise. To have such a command of the screen at such a young age is impressive. Few have the passion and talent to take control of each scene they appear in even at the heights of their craft, so to see someone relatively new to the field take a strong lead is impressive.  

Similarly strong is that of Doug Jones, caked in make-up, sprinting around after our leading character. His lack of presence contrasts quite nicely with that of Baquero, who reacts and responds to the hardworking efforts Jones does of capturing this fantasy landscape. Rich offerings throughout from Jones and del Toro give the darker edge necessary to the story at play, and the subsequent breaks from reality are nice, but feel a bit jagged. Merging the creativity and the grounded realism is, at times, a little difficult. Initially smart cuts are rather obvious after their frequent use, moments that lack the joyous inspiration or the hard-hitting brilliance found in later moments of the film. The pacing isn’t slow, nor are the performances poor, they simply need editing that feels inspired. Innovation is found everywhere else, so to see such stock moments of cuts and production design is a stark removal of the intrinsic efforts elsewhere. 

Deeply disturbing, and wholly enjoyable. What del Toro has done here is give audiences a great service, turning what many would presume to be a gorgeously layered fantasy film into a dark and brooding bit of supernatural wonder. Expecting a rather light and comfortable watch led to a stark and sudden shift in tone, as spectators will witness the spiral of a loving family, torn apart by horrid supporting characters with performances as icy and cold as the dark caverns and underground labyrinths del Toro looks to present.  

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