Time Out says
A fantasy about spooky fauns and scary fascists, Guillermo del Toro’s gothic allegory treats Spain’s darkest political hour as a Brothers Grimm fairy tale; it’s a brutal bedtime story designed to give both children and adults nightmares. Ofelia (Baquero) could be a typical heroine sprung from the kids’ books she reads: Her father has died, and her sick mother’s remarriage has relocated them to a rural hideaway in a Euro-Expressionist forest. There’s even a big, bad wolf in the form of her stepfather (Lpez), an officer in Franco’s army, and a housekeeper (Verd) who doubles as a fairy godmother. When bona fide supernatural creatures give Ofelia tasks to perform—stealing magic keys, outsmarting grotesque giant toads—she overcomes obstacles with pluck and bravery. Her true tests, however, won’t occur in any netherworld but in the real one, where there’s no guarantee of a happily-ever-after ending.
Del Toro specializes in taking horror and superhero films to bold, baroque places, yet Pan’s Labyrinth is a step above his usual forays into the fantastic. The mixture of surreal storybook vignettes and shocking violence suggests a prankish mash-up of a war film and The NeverEnding Story, but this juxtaposition is precisely what gives his movie such power; any preciousness is literally brought to an end by bullets. Make-believe monstrosities pale in comparison to genuine ogres like Lpez’s suave, sadistic civil guard (or his unseen boss), something Del Toro’s extraordinary feat of imagination hammers home. Stories about mystical journeys offer children a way of seeing the adult world. Fantasies, however, can’t save them from it. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear