Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pan's Labyrinth

(2006) ****

My last review! I don't remember why I ended on this one, probably because I wanted to finish off the 'thon with some quality. But I was actually a teensy bit disappointed seeing this a second time.

Our heroine is Ofelia, who suddenly finds herself in touch with strange, mystical forces that interest her more than the tense situation that is her real life. Her father has died, and to save the family her mother has married a captain in the Facist Spanish military.

This bastard. He's on duty trying to rout a bunch of rebels out of the woods somewhere, and hauls his sickly, pregnant new wife and his stepdaughter out there to hang out with him.

The stakes of 1944 Spain are brutally displayed in an early scene involving the Captain, a wine bottle, and a guy's nose. It's the scene everybody remembers, and it serves as potent counterpoint to the fantastic elements of the story. This guy is a bastard.

Not that fantasyland doesn't have its own share of danger.

I've been a fan of Guillermo del Toro ever since I saw Blade II. (How much I like Blade II is worth its own post, but not right now.) Sometimes his efforts fall short or run too slow, but he's definitely got a shot at his own slice of greatness. And he brings his A-game to Pan's Labyrinth. It's a good story with great characters, it's visually arresting, it has a good ending. But I was surprised to find the actress playing Ofelia to be quite flat and forgettable. It's quite possible that the little girl from The Fall spoiled me for imaginative little girls. Her performance blows the doors off Ofelia's, which seemed to be about looking spaced out all of the time.

I didn't see that coming, because I was anticipating a sour reaction like the one I had to elements of The Orphanage. That is, the fantasy world in Pan's Labyrinth is only accessible to children, so it leaves you the viewer with a choice to believe whether any of it is happening outside of Ofelia's head. As I noted in my review of The Orphanage, sometimes that really honks me off. I prefer the magic to be actually happening, and as such I scanned Pan's Labyrinth for hints that it was. And there are a few: certain magical objects do seem to have a real life effect on Ofelia's mother's health. But against that there's a scene in which an adult is watching Ofelia talk to a magical creature and for him the creature doesn't exist. The movie wasn't making it easy for me.

But I didn't really mind it, because Ofelia's spaciness let the fantasy story drift away from my concern. Instead I was more caught up in the events of the real world, dealing with the Captain's ongoing battle against the rebels while rebel sympathizers live in his very shadow. The sense of constant near-panic was palpable, and events unfold into a story with a taut, cruel edge.

Whether you're after insect fairies and giant toads, or perhaps jackboots and hidden knives, Pan's Labyrinth comes recommended. Not just for horror movie season, either.

There! I finished my reviews! I am officially a silly person, having those seven folders on my desktop for so long. But godammit I finished all my reviews for Horrorthon. I'd love to think my doggedness is inspirational in some way, but... really? Inspirational? It took you a freakin' year!

4 comments:

Catfreeek said...

Great review! I loved this film for both of the story lines, the visuals and the incredible creatures.

Congrats on finishing all your reviews, I'm proud of you.

JPX said...

I remember being only slightly disappointed in this film. I think I watched it late in the competition one year and I probably had a few glasses of wine, which makes me incredibly sleepy. Given that the director tends to have some slow spots, as you note in your review, I think it was the perfect storm for me to struggle to get through the end. Still, I recall that the visuals are amazing.

I liked Blade II.

DCD said...

What I remember most about this movie is that desroc and I hadn't been out in aaaaages and somehow we scored sitters and went to the movies. And this is what we saw. And boy, was I depressed after that.

Good movie though.

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