Matt’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a unique take on what is technically a fairytale. Every time I watch this movie I am taken back by how gracefully, and sometimes brutally, it handles this story.
It’s very dark, both literally and figuratively. This is a movie about a child, that is in no way meant for children. There are points in the film where faces get bashed in, cheeks get sliced, kids are abused, many people are shot dead in cold blood and that’s not even mentioning the multiple torture scenes. This is a heavy movie. And the lighting sets that tone perfectly. I love how blue and black everything is. Sometimes visuals this damp and dark can really bother me, but here they really ground the movie in the melancholy it operates in.
Thematically speaking, this movie is as deep and beautiful as anything I’ve seen from the 2000s. Like I mentioned earlier, this is technically a fairytale and it plays with the tropes of that genre in ways I’ve never seen. Examining themes such as free will and the power of choice, the importance of hope, the courage to stand against tyranny and (of course) good vs evil.
Our main character Ophelia is thrusted into this terrible world, yet seems to be the only character capable of experiencing a supernatural and mystical reality. This ambiguity as to whether or not this mystical world really exist or is just a coping mechanism for Ophelia is what always keeps me hooked. This time around, I was convinced that what Ophelia was seeing was real. I think this for a number of reasons, but mostly due to the fact that as the film progresses it seems more certain that there are some concrete consequences that effect the other characters in the film.
I have to mention that Ivana Baquero, who was 12 years old when this film was released, gives not only one of the best performances of the year, but also gives one of the best child performances ever. If this movie had a forgettable lead actress playing Ophelia it would’ve fallen flat but thankfully that’s not the case. She was wonderful. And Sergí Lopez is evil incarnate as the despicable, horrible and ruthless fascist Captain Vidal. What makes his performance so captivating is that you never know what he’s going to do. You know he’s going to kill people, but you’re never quite sure just how brutal and cold-blooded it’s going to be. He is an incredible villain.
Some of my favorite scenes from this wonderful movie are Ophelia’s first encounter with the Faun, the father and son farmers, the stutter scene, the hiding on the hillside scene, the cheek slicing scene, and the final chase sequence.
Switching gears, the set design and practical effects are mesmerizing. Del Toro has an affinity for scary costumes and menacing sets and it really shows in this movie. The Faun is iconic as is the Pale Man, both of whom are unsettling and flat out creepy. And most of my favorite scenes take place with the Faun or in “the underworld”. It seems like Del Toro got to just go crazy with this one.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is many things. It’s a fairytale that also features a fair amount of gore and violence. It’s about a kid but is in no way a “kid’s” movie. It’s set in a civil war but focuses on personal choice between right and wrong. It presents plenty of evidence that Pan’s experience with the Faun and the mystical setting is simply in her head and simultaneously presents just as much evidence that it’s all real. Because of this contrast, it’s a film that never fails to be fantastically interesting and thought-provoking upon every single rewatch.