El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labryinth) is the eighth feature film from director Guillermo del Toro, best known to American audiences for his 2004 hit Hellboy, based upon the cult favorite comic book of the same name.
The film is set in rural Spain in 1944, during the fascist repression that preceded the end of World War II. A young girl named Ofelia (played brilliantly by 12-year-old Ivana Baquero), obsessed with fairy tales, discovers an ancient labryinth near her stepfather’s property, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, falls into a wondrous world of fairies, fauns, and magic.
The Alice in Wonderland parallel is obvious from the earliest moments of the film. Like Alice, Ofelia seeks escape from the real world, a world which she cannot fully understand, and in which she does not fully belong. She immerses herself quite willingly into the supernatural, magical world to which she is exposed. She has a greater destiny to fulfill in this dreamy realm, and that is to become the queen of the underworld (which, despite the dark intonations of Hell, is really just a realm of magical creatures).
As both writer and director, del Toro is incredibly adept at interweaving both the real world and Ofelia’s wonderland. By the end of the film, it is nearly impossible to discern whether the events we’ve witnessed were real, or merely the escapist fantasies of a troubled young girl. There is a strong current of dark violence running through both worlds, making the journey to the Underworld nearly as frightening as the life Ofelia leaves behind in Spain.
Beautifully surrealistic, somewhat nightmarish, Pan’s Labryinth is a somber, haunting fairy tale about a troubled girl in a troubled time. It could also be del Toro’s best film to date.