Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.
Set after the Spanish Civil War, a time where Spanish rebels were being fished-out in the woods and left to be gunned-down by the nation’s soldiers, a 12 year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) gets thrown into a new world that she never expected to be in. In the real world, her pregnant mother is stuck with a powerful, but incredibly violent captain, Fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who not only wants to get rid of every rebel there is to get rid of, but to also make sure that his baby-son is born so that he has something to prove to his dead daddy. In the not-so real world, Ofelia enters an imaginary land in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. But to ensure that everything goes all fine and dandy for her, as well as her family, she has to complete some tasks for these creatures, and follow them, rule-by-rule. If she screws up and decides to improvise, the scary monsters of this fantasy-land will know and she’ll have to pay the price. So Ofelia best ought to be careful not to mess any of these instructions up, nor get caught in the act of by Vidal.
Many people love Guillermo del Toro and it’s understandable why, too. For one, he seems to be one of the very few directors left around, still making big-budget flicks that allow for his imaginary to run more wild than an eight-year-old boy. He loves all things ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In a way, del Toro is like the kid who never grew up and instead, gets a chance to make whichever movie he sees fit; he’s living the dream, some might say, and they’re definitely not wrong.
However, I am not one of those people.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not raining down on del Toro – the guy has made many good movies in his career and will probably continue to do so until he grows ancient and decides that maybe he did get old (even then, though, it still probably won’t happen). But there’s always this feeling I get with his movies that they can’t help but feel as if they’re constantly searching for the right shot, at the right moment, with the right music, all to then give off the right feeling for the audience to take home with them. Sure, you could say he’s a perfectionist and he’s not unlike any other directors out there who take absolute, almost crazy pride and dedication with their movies, but, for me at least, it always feels like this takes me out of del Toro’s movies and the stories he’s trying to tell.
Take, for instance, this story of 12-year-old Ofelia. Obviously, for anybody who has ever seen it, the fact that she’s a little girl having imaginary, spooky friends, surrounded by a setting that’s been ravaged by war, will definitely draw comparisons to del Toro’s the Devil’s Backbone. Apparently that is intentional and this movie is, in some ways, supposed to be considered a spiritual sequel. I can roll with that, however, that movie was a bit better in combining the two separate stories together, in order to make them seem like one, cohesive whole. The story of Ofelia and her wild, fantastical adventures, going alongside the story of Vidal’s bloody, gruesome tactics in taking down rebels, doesn’t quite work.
Which isn’t much of a problem because, for a good majority of this flick, del Toro doesn’t seem at all interested in making the two into one. Then, all of a sudden, he changes his mind and realizes that maybe they do need to and it doesn’t quite work as well. In a way, it actually takes more away from Vidal’s story which can be the most interesting one in the movie; while I’m not knocking on the character of Ofelia because she’s a young girl, at the same time, everything that she was going through didn’t really register for me. Yeah, I get it: She’s a kid who talks to a lot of creepy-looking, awfully-descriptive monsters, what else does she have to offer?
Not much, honestly.
Of course though, the good part of her subplot is that it allows for del Toro to show-off all of his wonderful and wild creatures, and none of them really disappoint. This is obvious from del Toro, but it should be definitely said that someone who aligns himself so much with the designs he makes for all of these monsters and whatnot, still seem to surprise and interest. There’s a couple of odd-looking, but cool-looking monsters that pop-up here, but perhaps the best, most memorable one is the Pale Man. By now, almost every person on the face of the planet has shown a picture of it and said, “Aww, look! How rad, yo!”, so I won’t bother getting into too many of the details, but I will say one thing, it’s still an freakishly scary sight.
Did I go to bed, normal and fine as usual? Yeah, of course. But it was still pretty freaky.
And while I know it may seem like I’m getting totally on del Toro’s case here, I really don’t want it to be. Pan’s Labyrinth, despite my problems with the plotting, is still an engaging movie, solely due to the fact that del Toro brings his audience into this little universe of his, but never does he allow for it to get over-the-top or serious. There’s always a certain degree of seriousness or menace in what’s happening here that makes it feel like it’s a horror movie, definitely, but not one all the way through. It’s still got something for people who just want a good, effective movie, that has something of a political message, but also not. It’s just another opportunity del Toro gets to create and design all sorts of wild-looking creatures, and he’s clearly enjoying every second of it.
So yeah, we should probably do the same, too.
Consensus: Though it’s plotting is a bit clunky, Pan’s Labyrinth is still, no matter what, a fine film from the likes of del Toro who can’t help but gush over everything he’s done here, even if the story sometimes feels like it’s taking a back seat.
7.5 / 10