Pan's Labyrinth

Film, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
(11user reviews)
A girl on the cusp of adolescence is inducted into a threatening fantasy world where she discovers her own power. It’s a familiar, even archetypal story well suited to the dreamlike parallel reality of cinema: Alice, Wendy and Dorothy found their ways on screen and have been joined by the young heroines of ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Mirrormask’, to name just a few. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is another version of the tale, but an unusual one in that it isn’t suitable for children. Not only is it replete with violence visited on the body, but its lessons – in the inadequacy of fantasy as a countermeasure to repression – might have sensitive youngsters chucking in the towel.

As in ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and a prospective new project, ‘3993’, del Toro (who is Mexican) arranges his supernatural drama against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. The setting is 1944, so the conflict proper is over, but skirmishes continue between anti-fascist guerrillas and forces under the command of sadistic, narcissistic Captain Vidal (Sergi López) – or ‘father’, as young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is instructed to address him when she arrives at his forest base with her pregnant, ailing mother (Ariadna Gil), Vidal’s new bride. The maid, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), is friendly and in some ways a mirror character for Ofelia, but the girl is basically alone – until a large cricket transforms into a fairy and leads her to a crumbling stone maze in the grounds, where an ageing faun greets her as a lost princess, pending her completion of certain tasks…

It’s no coincidence that the fairy appears after the double-killing that establishes this fable isn’t kids’ stuff, or that the jeopardy of Ofelia’s challenges pales in comparison to real-world struggles. Reality increasingly dominates the story; in fact, the faun’s realm can seem merely the stage for a series of set-pieces whose grotesque and detailed design impresses more than any sense of momentum or high stakes.

Yet as escapist fantasies go, this supernature is markedly muddy – both literally, as when Ofelia ventures into the belly of a great tree, and in the general creepiness that marks even those ostensibly sympathetic to her, like the faun, with its unnerving habit of appearing in her bedroom. The labyrinth has echoes of authentic atrocity: a pile of children’s shoes lies ominously near the banqueting table of a bald-bodied, blank-faced baby-eater. At least as evident, though, is del Toro’s own immersion in fantasy and horror cinema, with nods to ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Shining’ among others (not to mention Goya and ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’). It’s as a filmmaker, rather than storyteller, that del Toro is most successful here: a disjunction remains between the story’s childlike form and its gruesome execution, but few directors are so adept at conveying both the uncanny in the real and the recognisable in the fantastic.


Release details

Release date:
Friday November 24 2006
120 mins

Cast and crew

Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro
Ariadna Gil
Ivana Baquero
Maribel Verdu
Sergi López
Doug Jones

Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:8
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:1
2 people listening

A pretty spectacular "scarytale" as I've heard it called by others. It's eerie, it's odd, it's darn right bizarre in points but it does wholeheartedly suck you into the story and you'll finish it feeling challenged and mesmerised. Be prepared for subtitles and Del Toro's work at its best. 

There are no words to describe how this film makes me feel. I came no closer to pinning down the enigmatic effects in either the second or third watch. 

I can feel number 4 coming on... Maybe this Christmas as a treat.

Film making at its best. Del Toro wanted to include adragon but didn't have the buget. I can't wait to see Smaug in his upcomming versio of The Hobbit. The monster with eys in its hands is called Te-no-me and it isthe ghost of a murdered begger who has eyes in his hands.

Absolute genious. Beautifully filmed and acted, and an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. A very eye-opening view into post-civil war Franco's Spain. I've seen it several times and can't get enough of it.

Frighteningly ingenious use of digital animation in grim faire-tale, all the more horrible for paralleling the brutality of the soldiers hunting down revolutionaries, and the semblance of a "family story" (girl's father has been killed,& she hates brutal step-father---a captain in Franco's army). Lighting of interior scenes sometimes evocative of Velázquez, but the tone is so horrific that you'd have to be sick, or hardened, to stomach it.

In response to "emperors new clothes" comment, (note this is the only negative commenter) I would like to say the film is brilliant. The comment made by emperors new clothes is just an attack on people who have a different taste in film, implying that those people cannot possibly have a mind of their own and only take their reference from what the critics say, quite a biggoted viewpoint. I suggest to those who have not seen this film to watch it with an open mind judge for yourselves. x

The review from time out put me off watching this film as it made it saound contrived and boring. However, I was glad I did watch because I found ita beautiful and compelling film, which had me gripped from start to finish, and thinking about it for a long time afterwards Watch this film!

A very enthralling tale for grown-ups, that leaves the viewer realizing that the reality is more brutal than any fiction.

This was one of the most powerful, beautiful and heart breaking films I have ever seen. I whole-heartedly enjoyed every minute of it and would recommend it to evryone.