In director Guillermo del Toro’s vision, real darkness resides in the real world, and despite initial appearances, the faun’s magical realm may be dangerous, but is not nearly as horrific. Indeed, in del Toro’s film, the real monsters are real people in the real world, while the creatures that appear to, speak to, and ultimately lead Ofelia to her destiny are not so clear-cut.
It’s difficult to elaborate on characters in a story concept drawn from archetypes (as most fairy-tales are), but knowing nods are apparent to many classical structures - Alice in Wonderland is one obvious example.
Be warned: part fairy tale this story might be, but there are scenes of shocking on-screen and suggested violence – most of which is not fantasy violence. At one point a hapless peasant is pistol-whipped in graphic detail, while in another scene a meticulous torture method is explained by way of instruments to the point of toe-curling revulsion. It is not a film for children by any stretch of the imagination.
Kudos to a cast of genuinely affecting actors, who offer warm, authentic characters. The film’s design is outstanding – look out for The Pale Man (don’t eat anything!) - and the beautiful, quiet soundtrack, punctuated by occasional bangs and explosions whenever the insurgents are encountered, make for a beautiful symphony of sound. Try to see it in a cinema with a proper sound system.
Yet what truly elevates El Laberinto is its seamless integration of parallel storylines. Carmen’s troublesome pregnancy, the fascist/guerrilla conflict and Ofelia’s adventures in the labyrinth are ingeniously paced and overlapped. This makes for a film that can be sold as mostly fantasy, but is firmly rooted in human drama and political intrigue. In short: a masterpiece.
- Anton Marshall
Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece is without a doubt one of most captivating, disturbing and beautifully shot films ever made. Don't take the kids though.
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