Enter the Labyrinth

Too often, quality foreign films are passed over because of their necessary subtitles. Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” appears to being slightly breaking that mold. Known more recently for two big-time Hollywood films (“Blade II,” “Hellboy”), del Toro ventures back to his indie roots with this horror/fantasy.

Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, “Pan’s Labyrinth” follows the story of a young girl, Ofelia (portrayed by the incredibly talented Ivana Baquero). Young Ofelia is forced to move with her pregnant mother to the camp of Spanish Capitán Vidal (Sergi Lopez), whom her mother has recently married.

Ofelia, however, refuses to accept Vidal as her father and lives within a world of her own creation. Intrigued by fairy tales (she initially carries books around with her), she is certain to have seen a fairy, in the form of an insect, which follows her around.

Following the creature around the back side of Vidal’s camp, she discovers a labyrinth, where she encounters a Faun, Pan (Doug Jones, who also portrays The Pale Man). Certain she is the long lost princess of the kingdom beneath the labyrinth, Pan request she perform three dangerous tasks to prove it.

Although the basis of the film engulfs heavy fairy tale aspects, the film is hardly a children’s tale. Del Toro makes this quite well known through the inclusion of politics, warfare, and overall brutality, all of which is seen mostly through the eyes of the innocent Ofelia. The side story, revolving around Vidal’s attempts to suppress the rebels, is connected through Ofelia’s caretaker Mercedes (Maribel Verd√∫). Furthermore, audiences can see how an innocent – in Ofelia – can be forced into a struggling existence.

What the film does best is, quite simply, almost everything. The story is captivating for those who can appreciate a film of this sort, as it pulls audiences in with visuals and depth (quite an achievement). Audiences get true feels for almost all of the characters, making many feel deeply for Ofelia while having them hate Vidal (possibly). “Pan’s Labyrinth” is also so far off from what most are used to seeing, which works greatly in its advantage.

As for its subtitles and use of Spanish dialogue, they work wonders for it. The only difficulty presented is at the beginning, because audiences will want to look at how astonishing the film is presented, but also not want to miss what is being said. However, most will be able to adjust quickly.

The best way to describe the film would be that it is hauntingly beautiful. It is apparent del Toro poured his soul into making this film, which is considers to be a sister film to 2001’s “The Devil’s Backbone.” And were it not del Toro losing his notebook of artwork in a cab, only to have it returned to him by the driver, the film industry would be lacking an underlying message from del Toro: adults can have a fantasy geared towards them. Having already won Best International Film from multiple organizations, “Pan’s Labyrinth” proves its worth as one of the best films of this young year.