Pan's Labyrinth (2006) (R)

"Pan's Labyrinth" is the piece that put director Guillermo del Toro on the map. Yes, he'd been making films for years and yes, the cinephile and casual viewer would have already heard of him; but upon the release of "Pan's Labyrinth" the movie world virtually exploded. Critics hailed the piece as one of the best films of the decade and it raked in a mound of awards, including three Oscars.
Still, the movie itself can be condensed into escapism. It's a film that is incredibly smart and wonderfully executed.
In the middle of the 20th century in Spain right after a civil war, revolutions are still being put out like fires across the land. At the movie's beginning, we are escorted along a trip with Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her very pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil). Her mother is very ill and has to stop the car to get out and calm herself. Ofelia is a smart child, one who always has her nose in a book. Her particular favorite genre seems to be fairy tales and when the car stops, she doesn't realize that she is standing on the edge of magical grounds. She sees a flying insect and tells her mother it was a fairy. Her mother, like most every adult in the movie, brushes Ofelia aside and thinks to themselves "kids will be kids".
Ofelia's mother has remarried after the death of her first husband. Her current beau is a Captain named Vidal (Sergi López). Ofelia's mother asks her to refer to the Captain as "father", something that Ofelia refuses to do with a childlike nonchalance. 
When they arrive at the estate, it's clear that we are not supposed to like the Captain. He seems less than interested in his pregnant and ailing wife and corrects Ofelia on the way she wants to shake his hand. Perhaps it was his upbringing, or maybe Vidal is just a cruel man.
It's not long into the movie that we see his unflinching resolve to quell the rebellions. He dispatches a father and son for hunting on his property because he thinks that they are spies.
Ofelia, not privy to the whims and monstrosities of the Captain, discovers a labyrinth on the property. A giant stone maze stands only a few hundred meters from the house. 
One of the maids, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) takes a liking to Ofelia and is the only character who even comes close to indulging in the child's fantasies.
As her mother's condition deteriorates, Ofelia discovers fairies. They fly into her room in the middle of the night and show her a way through the maze.
She comes across a large, well-like opening in the earth and climbs down the flights of stairs. Below, there is a giant faun-like creature who tells her of a quest she must complete is she is to return to her father.
Ofelia is at first confused, but the faun explains. Her father and mother were rules in a magical land and at the insistence of their daughter, allowed her to venture into the human world, where she died. They have kept a portal open in case the spirit of their daughter returns and wishes to be immortal with them again. Ofelia is told that she is the princess and that if she wants to rejoin her family, she must complete three tasks.
The magic of "Pan's Labyrinth" is what makes or breaks the movie for you. If you enjoy fantasy, you'll enjoy the film...if you don't, perhaps not. I read an amusingly ignorant article about "Pan's Labyrinth" claiming that the film was a pedophiliac and Satanist work. Just because you don't like it, doesn't make it evil.
What "Pan's Labyrinth" is about is escaping from reality and returning to security...that and mortality. Death is a very present figure in the film, so much so that it is a surprise that we do not see some physical representation of it. 
Winning Oscars for art direction, makeup, and cinematography, it's not wonder that the film looks fantastic. By using the time period he does, del Toro is able to weave fantasy and bitter reality into each other almost seamlessly.
"Pan's Labyrinth", if nothing else, is simply entertaining. The one thing I don't appreciate about it was how "videogame-esque" it felt. It was quest-like with a resolution that came about too soon. I would have been fine with this movie stretching out for another hour. I feel like it deserves it.
Nonetheless, it is a wonderful fantasy tale.

Score: ★★★½

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