Pan's Labyrinth ★★★★½

🎃 31 Nights of Halloween - Night 24 🎃

“They say that a long, long time ago, in an underground kingdom, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamt of the human world.”

Intertwining the fanciful horrors of fantasy and the real-life atrocities of war with his signature brand of childlike innocence, PAN’S LABYRINTH is certainly one of, if not the, finest demonstration of what Guillermo del Toro can accomplish when his imaginative disposition is fully rewarded. While it does warrant some twisted comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, del Toro’s manipulation of the story beats and fantasy tropes is such that he is able to inject his signature brand of macabre imagery, and even his personal experiences, right into the heart of its anti-fascist narrative. What’s especially rewarding is how he manages to evoke such a specific sentiment without coming off as maladroit or preachy; much of this has to do with his emphasis on the terrifying creatures that inhabit the two worlds that young Ofelia finds herself stuck between. While the sadistic, despicable tactics of her stepfather, Falangist Captain Vidal, make him the obvious antagonist of the story, this is not to say that the creatures that inhabit the titular maze are much better. The Faun and the Pale Man, in particular, are both figures with an inherent moral ambiguity, underscored by Doug Jones’ dual performance as both creatures and the makeup designers that bring them to disturbing life. The perpetual danger Ofelia finds herself in is a stiff departure from the fairytales we are typically exposed to, as del Toro constantly questions if our imaginations are enough to save us from a grim reality. In del Toro’s worlds, no one is ever safe, and a happy ending is never guaranteed, but PAN’S LABYRINTH thrives on its pure visual vocabulary, with its rich symbolism and masterful cinematography completely transcending any and all language barriers, and only further complimenting the film’s ongoing legacy.

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