Fantasy and darkness have always played very well together. Maybe when things are darkest we turn more readily to escape through the fantastic. Panís Labyrinth is another wonderful example of that idea.
Guillermo del Toro, most known in the English film world for B-movie horror pics, has returned to the world of Franco Spain that he visited in his Spanish language The Devilís Backbone and will visit again in 3993. This is the perfect backdrop for a tale like this as he can use the viciousness of the Fascists to underlie the beautiful, if somewhat horrifying magical world he creates.
This is the story of a little girl whose father died in the war. Her mother has remarried a powerful soldier whose job it is to destroy the rebels. His very real evil is what sends her on her fantastic journey to defeat and survive the fantastic evil of her dreams. She believes she is a princess in a magical realm who is lost and must return. She is surrounded by fairies and monsters of the most terribly beautiful variety.
Panís Labyrinth is gruesomely gorgeous. The art direction evokes a complete world that is somewhere between Tim Burton and David Lynch. This is a fairytale for adults. The horrors young Ofelia witnesses are of the worst variety and that translates into her viscous imagination. The beauty of this tale is how she survives it all. This is a tale of overcoming, if not for real, at least in our dreams.
My only criticism is that del Toroís style is quite heavy handed. He lays on the gore quite thick, often to the point where is seems more comic than real and this distracts a bit from the power of his piece. If he could reign it in and let us feel the emotions a bit more honestly, Panís Labyrinth would have been a perfect picture. As it is, it remains a very powerful, haunting and striking film.
Panís Labyrinth is a bitter pill that is very satisfying and will sit with you long after viewing. See this spectacle on the big screen where it can be appreciated properly.