An ex friend brought me Pan's Labyrinth as a Christmas present a few years back. Despite knowing it was supposed to be great I have only just got round to watching it. It is a spiritual successor to Del Toro's ghost story The Devil's Backbone. Rather than a ghost story, this time around the story is one of Fantasy.
The film is set in Spain during World War 2. A girl and her heavily pregnant Mother go to a remote Army outpost where the Mothers husband is stationed. He is the Commander of the Troops there who are tasked with wiping out a resistance movement that is operating in the forests around the base. The Commander is very cold and brutal and shows no love to the child or her Mother, just obsessed with the Mother giving birth to his son so that he has a successor. The girl is obsessed with fairy tales, next to the base is a labyrinth. Led there one night by a fairy, she comes across an entrance to a mysterious dungeon type place. There she finds a creepy looking Fawn monster. The Fawn tells the girl she is the reincarnation of a Princess who left the underworld many years ago. To be able to go to the underworld and take her place as a Princess she has to pass 3 tasks.
The film is split into two parts. Half the story is focused on the Army leader and his search for the resistance fighters, as well as the staff of the house he is staying at who are secretly offering aid to the resistance. The other half is fantasy with the young girl going about her 3 tasks so that she can enter the underworld.
The Army leader is very brutal, and most the films violence involves him in some capacity. He is shown early on to be evil when he smashes a civilians face in with a bottle. He is also involved in a scene where someone gets a smile cut into their face in a scene that The Dark Knight shied away from showing and just insinuated. Quite gruesome!
The monster effects are really really good. The Fawn looks otherworldly, but not fake, as do the various other monsters that appear. The best scene in the film involves one such monster, a humanoid whose eyes are in the palms of it's hands. This sequence was quite tense indeed.
I was really impressed with this, the fantasy and the normal sequences are very well done, with the acting of a high standard. You can always tell when your watching a good foreign film because you forget that you are reading subtitles due to being so involved in whats happening. That happened here.
A really good, affecting story with many layers to it. I would go as far to say it is essential viewing, though don't expect many laughs, this is quite a serious moody film.