Pan's Labyrinth ★★★★★

Pan’s Labyrinth exquisitely navigates a ruined maze of dark fantasies to escape a sorrowful grim reality. Francoist Spain, 1944. Five years after the Spanish Civil War, a dictatorship controls the meandering roads and bustling cities. The political authoritarian ideology of unifying Spain and eliminating regional separatism. An emergent battle between Falangism and the republican resistance formed. Innocent individuals punished with ration cards and intense scrutiny. Only enforcers of the totalitarian principles garnered true freedom. Captain Vidal, the son of a famed commander, treated like royalty. A king. His new wife, inflicted with the pain of a brutal pregnancy, ordered to join him at a rural command post. Her daughter, ten year-old Ofelia, reluctantly obeying her mother’s wish. To treat the captain as a father.

War ravages on. The Falangists luring the rebellious Spanish Marquis to the very abode Ofelia and Carmen rest at. The young, imaginative Ofelia is not alone during these times of turmoil. A pointed stick insect, believed to be a mystical fairy, leads Ofelia to an adjacent stone labyrinth where its walls echo tainted history for the trials soon to arrive. Once successfully navigated, an imposing faun greets the naive child, persuading her that she is the reincarnation of an ancient princess whose father is the king of the underworld. She must successfully complete three trials in order to acquire immortality and be resurrected in her kingdom. And thus beings a fantastical quest of escape. A desperate flee from the grotesque reality Ofelia currently copes with.

Del Toro’s legendary dark fantasy drama is a seamless blend of compelling war tirades and endless imagination. Both encompassing the thematic portrayal of disobedience and choice, two pivotal convictions that commenced the feud with the dictatorship originally. Ofelia often disregards her adolescence to allow her mind to distract from the nihilistic virtues of Vidal. Disobeying the captain himself, her mother and the faun. Challenging the orders given to her, in reality Ofelia symbolises the Spanish Maquis. Her fantastical tasks that she endeavours to complete however, perpetuate the greed and oppression of the captain. Retrieving a key from the belly of filthy giant toad, who prevents an ornate tree from flourishing. Retrieve a dagger from the lair of the terrifying child-eating monster, where she is instructed not to consume any of the food items presented. These dream scenarios immortalise the oppressive consequences of fascism, integrated seamlessly in an already melancholic reality.

Del Toro, whom hints at various mythologies, crafts a fantasy that relishes in its darkened style. Whilst being inspired by Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, a young girl who seeks to escape her reality, the Mexican director wholesomely places his own spin on the tale. The trials are just as nightmarish as the reality Ofelia imagines herself out of, supplying the harrowing idea that reality is inescapable. She’s constantly reminded to “stop reading fairy tales”, to “grow up” and to “stop believing in fairies”. Removing her child-like qualities indefinitely. All that remains is loss, grief and destruction. Bolstered by a screenplay that explores the painful bonds of a broken family during a time of distress, Del Toro inserts a sense of hopelessness throughout. Innocence is extinguished. Happiness devoured by the jaws of retribution. The important yet depressing conclusion surmising the preceding journey exquisitely, as poetic as the lullaby strung throughout Ofelia’s arduous quest, composed hypnotically by Navarrete as he heightens the allurement of dreamlike qualities.

The fairy tale of Princess Moanna brought to life through expertly crafted production design and creature aesthetics, utilising minimal visual effects in the process. Jones, dual-casted as the faun and Pale Man, enduring extensive costume and makeup applications to materialise two cinematic icons in the fantasy genre. Exceptional work from all departments. Baquero’s vulnerable performance as Ofelia simultaneously conjures an infliction of sadness, fear and joy in an incredibly nuanced multi-faceted character. López as the antagonistic Vidal brings life to one of cinema’s most degenerative characters ever. Ruthless and remorseless. He himself endures some succinct makeup and visual effects when relentlessly slaughtering the rebels he captures. Navarro’s cinematography, frequently accompanied with a pale blue tint, enhances the illusory nature of Pan’s Labyrinth with the bright, golden shades of the underworld juxtaposing the cold shades of reality. In theory, the two colour schemes should be reversed, yet it cements Del Toro’s vision that Francoist Spain was even more hellish than the underworld itself.

Without discussing the pivotal role of Mercedes or Doctor Ferreiro’s heroic deed, Pan’s Labyrinth has substantial depth to its visual narrative. Producing a surreal, ethereal and phantasmagorical tale of a country’s “unity” relinquished by oppression, reducing a nationwide battle into a whimsical fairy tale. The grim realities of warfare paralleling the descent into an idyllic underworld. Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo del Toro’s magnum opus. A poem that surrounds itself in visual perfection and imaginary wonderment. And with that said, Pan’s Labyrinth undoubtedly claims an elusive perfect rating. A labyrinthine parable that succinctly cements itself as timeless.