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Spain 1944: The fascists under General Franco have pretty much taken
over gouvernment, but in all corners of the country, there are still
guerillas in hiding, trying to take their country back ...
Amidst this turbulent times, young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is taken to a
military outpost in the country by her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna
Gil), where they are going to live with mother's new husband Captain Vidal
It is not long before Ofelia feels grossly neglected: Her mother's
pregnancy is running into complications, the Captain makes no secret of
loathing her, and the only friend she has among the staff, Mercedes
(Maribel Verdú), is having enough problems of her own, especially because
her brother (Roger Casamajor is with the resistance, and she smuggles food
and medication to him on a regular basis. Soon enough, Ofelia, who has
always loved reading fairy tales, is retreating into a fantasy world of
her own, which is also triggered by a nearby ancient labyrinth. Here, a
faun (Doug Jones, voiced by Pablo Aldán) tells her that she is the long
lost princess of the underworld, and she can return to her kingdom if she
fulfills three tasks that are told to her in a magic book.
The first task is relatively simple: Climb into a dieing tree and feed
a giant toad three stones that will kill it. This only results in very
dirty cloths, and her best dress too, just on a night the Captain has a
social function. Then Ofelia's mother falls ill, and even the doctor
(Álex Angulo), actually one of the resistance, can't help her - when the
faun visits Ofelia and gives her a magic root she has to keep under mama's
bed in a bowl of milk for her and the baby to get better ... and it
actually works too.
The second task: Ofelia has to go to a room where the Pale Man (Doug
Jones again) is sleeping in front of a feast and fetch a dagger. Thing is,
Ofelia mustn't eat any of his deliciously looking food, because that would
awaken the Pale Man who likes to eat little girls ... But unfortunately,
Ofelia can't resist the food and steals a grape - and she can escape the
Pale Man only just. When the faun learns about her blunder, he tells her
now she has lost her chance to return to her kingdom and he will leave for
Soon afterwards, Ofelia's mother and the Captain discover the magic
root under mama's bed, give Ofelia a good scolding and burn the root -
immediately afterwards Ofelia's mother breaks down, goes into labour and
dies of childbirth (the baby is ok) - which is worrying because now Ofelia
is subjected to the mercy of the Captain, and he has a history of shooting
civilians and has already threatened her with a gun.
In the meantime, the resistance have attacked the outpost and emptied
the storage rooms ... and soon enough, the Captain has figured there are
traitors among his men, has found out the doctor and has shot him dead.
He's not so sure yet about Mercedes, so to trap her he gives her a subtle
warning. That night, Mercedes takes Ofelia and the two try to make a
getaway ... right into the Captain's arms. Ofelia is locked in while the
Captain prepares to torture Mercedes on his own, but Mercedes is not
without resources, and soon enough she has freed herself, injured and
humiliated the Captain and made an escape. The Captain sends his men after
her, but they ride right into an ambush by the resistance.
Meanwhile, the faun has returned to Ofelia to give her one more chance.
He helps her escape, but only under the condition that she brings her
brother to him at the labyrinth that evening. And somehow, while the
resistance attacks the outpost, Ofelia manages to escape with the boy, the
Captain in hot pursuit. Once at the labyrinth though, Ofelia finds herself
betrayed, because the faun wants the baby's innocent blood to open the
gate to the underworld, something Ofelia isn't willing to give him.
Meanwhile, the Captain has caught up with Ofelia. Now he retrieves his son
from her, then shoots the poor kid in cold blood ... however before he
knows it, he runs into the arms of Mercedes and the resistance, who take
the kid from him and shoot him dead. The Captain pleaded them to tell his
son that he died a hero, but all Mercedes promises him is that the boy
will never even know his father's name.
Later, they find Ofelia, but she's already dead - yet the spilling of
her own innocent blood has assured her entrance to the underworld, where
she can finally resume her position as Princess ...
Above all else, Pan's Labyrinth is of course a fairy tale. But
that, and the fact that the protagonist is a young girl, does not make it
a children's film. Actually, Pan's Labyrinth is a very dark (and
extremely atmospheric) journey into a girl's mind who fails to yet
understand what's going on in the real world but tries to make up for it
using her own imagination, thus mixes stark realism and fantasy elements
aplenty into a surprisingly well-made amalgam. Guillermo del Toro's
direction is flawless this time around, helped by great camerawork, a
great cast (especially young Ivana Baquero) and of course a very
intelligent script ... and even the CGI-effects work for the film instead
of against it for a change.
Quite possibly the best film to date of director Guillermo del Toro,
whose career seems to be torn between very personal genre films and
routine if well-crafted Hollywood horror (series-)films.