Directed Guillermo Del Toro (El Laberinto Del Fauno)
Starring Sergi López and Maribel Verdú

5 out of 5 Arnolds

During the previous decade, while American cinema reveled in torture porn disguised as horror, filmmakers from other parts of the world reinvented the squeal. The best example of this came from the Mexico-born Guillermo Del Toro.

For the uninitiated, director Guillermo Del Toro is the mind behind such cult favorites as The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos, the Orphanage, and Mama. He’s also the master at the helm of Blade II, the Hellboy series, and the recently released Pacific Rim. Del Toro’s fertile imagination has planted many memorable cinematic seeds but, for this viewer, the filmmaker’s bank of trust skyrocketed with the release of 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a film in which dark fantasies crawl around the edges of harsh reality.

In the movie, our main character, Ofelia, is a day dreamer distracted by the ugliness surrounding her during the climax of the Spanish Civil War. During her mother’s pregnancy, she is forcibly relocated to live with her vile stepfather, General Vidal. Vidal is fond of torturing anyone he deems a rebel or spy, proving that he is more concerned with his loyalty to fascism than the birth complications of Ofelia’s mom. Desperately wanting to escape from it all, Ofelia wanders into the woods and discovers a gothic-looking labyrinth. Enter: Pan, a devilish smooth-talker (literally) who convinces Ofelia that she has forgotten her real destiny…that of a princess. Pan manipulates her into accomplishing three tasks in exchange for her crown, but how much blood must be shed in order for Ofelia to discover whether or not the creature is lying?

Is it Action A Go Go or Action A No No? Action A Go Go! If the devil is in the details then Guillermo Del Toro must have been delegated the micromanager of monsters.

Del Toro’s ability to world build is unparalleled in modern film (a fact that seems to have not gone unnoticed, judging by the laundry list of pre-production work he has accumulated before moving on to Pacific Rim). With Pan’s Labyrinth, the director officially became known for such craftsmanship — sketching out amazing character designs in advance and then working with effects teams to bring them to life. His eye for lush, otherworldly detail is effectively unsettling and immersive, molding realities that stick with you long after you’ve exited the theater.