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Wayback Wednesday: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

The Pale Man absolutely would have caught me. No way I’m resisting a free feast.

One of my favourite parts about the movie-watching experience is being transported into another world. It’s amazing. Being able to step into a world completely unlike your own and lose yourself in it for a couple of hours is magical. One of the most memorable worlds that viewers have been drawn into is the one created in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). This enchanting fantasy is a work of art to take in, and spending time in this dark world is bizarrely breathtaking. Boy, it would simultaneously be fantastic and frightening to spend time in this fairytale world. But also, I’m like 100 per cent down to do it. What can I say? Frightening fantasy is kind of my comfort zone.

Credit: / Warner Bros. Pictures

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is set in Falangist Spain, 1944. Ofelia, a young bookish girl, and her pregnant mother are sent to live with her vicious new stepfather, Captain Vidal, at his base. When Ofelia discovers an ancient labyrinth and a mysterious faun, she’s soon drawn into a magical world full of wonder and danger.

This Wayback marks a couple of firsts for me. It’s my first review of a foreign language movie, and it’s my first review of a movie by del Toro. Given those two factors, my undivided attention was needed more than ever while watching this movie. Not only did I have to keep up with the subtitles, but I also needed to make sure I was taking in every second of del Toro’s signature production design. The acclaimed director is an artistic genius. His scriptwriting is exceptional, but the way he’s able to tell a majority of the story through visual storytelling is really what sets him apart from other directors. Del Toro is one of those filmmakers you can tell lives to tell stories. He always puts the story above anything else, a quality I both respect and admire. He seems like he’s genuinely in love with his craft and puts all his effort into each movie he helms. You can certainly tell the amount of work put into Pan’s Labyrinth.

Pan’s Labyrinth is undeniably del Toro’s most recognized, iconic piece of work. It’s the movie he’ll most be remembered for, and it’s brimming with hallmarks of the director’s trademark style. His recognizable aesthetic is on full display in this movie, as Pan’s Labyrinth is the definition of a dark, twisted fairytale come to life. I’ve always been a fan of the creepy and the ethereal so to see those two aesthetics blend together into one hauntingly beautiful movie is music to my ears. Though del Toro’s production design occasionally reminds me ever so slightly of Tim Burton, del Toro really sets himself apart with the references he chooses. While his production design is obviously rooted in fantasy, you can see the historical and cultural influences as well. I especially love all of the fairytale influences and the grisly spin the movie puts on things. Pan’s Labyrinth is brilliant in the way it utilizes familiar tropes and transforms then in a new and exciting way that only a visionary like del Toro could dream of. God, I love a good fairytale. And a dark twist. And the underworld. And the Spanish language! Pan’s Labyrinth has a lot going for it that I’m a big fan of.

Pan’s Labyrinth expertly peppers fairytale winks to the audience throughout the movie, like Ofelia in her green dress literally looking like Alice from Alice in Wonderland (1951), but in my mind, there’s no greater reference than The Pale Man scene. It’s the scene that I feel perfectly sums up the twisted terror that is the theme of Pan’s Labyrinth, that subversion of fantasy and fairytales. This incredible scene is hands down the best, scariest, and most iconic scene in the whole movie. Heart-pounding suspense and fear are woven into this one scene and I wish the movie had more scenes like this. Not only because the mind-blowing practical effects and costumes more than hold up, but because Pan’s Labyrinth is at its absolute best when it takes a breather from the dramatic war storyline, and dives headfirst into the fantastical.

The storyline involving war and rebellion is a nice backdrop that ties the story to reality but honestly, I don’t care much for it. It’s not bad in the slightest, it’s just that I’ve never cared for any movie set against the backdrop of war. Don’t get me wrong, the subject matter is handled well and the story of Mercedes the maid’s courageous rebellion would make for its own interesting solo movie, but it’s an odd choice. Only because Ofelia’s fantasy adventure is so much more vibrant and engaging, and the two storylines never truly seem to converge in an organic way. At least 20-30 minutes of the movie’s two hour runtime could have been shaved if del Toro had chosen to make one movie, instead of blending two together. I personally would have preferred if he had stuck to a straight-up fantasy.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a great place to start for anyone looking to explore del Toro’s filmography. Captivating, sensational, and wonderfully memorable, this spellbinding story is a timeless example of why del Toro is one of the most revered directors working today. I am 10,000 per cent down for del Toro to put his own twist on every fairytale out there. Could you imagine what a del Toro “Snow White” would look like? AMAZNG!

Are you a fan of Pan’s Labyrinth?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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