Pans Labyrinth is a fairy tale for adults where fantasy and reality mix into a dark yet hopeful dream.

A young girl named Ofelia moves to a house in the countryside with her mother. The house is ruled by her stepfather, a ruthless army captain determined to crush a guerrilla uprising. With no one to play with, Ofelia ventures into the woods and finds an elaborate labyrinth guarded by a faun. The creature convinces her that she is a princess of an underground kingdom, but in order to return home she must complete three tasks, or else be a mortal forever.

Pans Labyrinth is one of those rare movies that make it hard yet joyful to be a film critic, regardless of whether you have a byline in publication or not. The story is enchanting, the plot is a captivating blend of the violent and the fantastical, the characters are memorable, the practical effects are just amazing, and the ending is perfect.

Ofelia’s life doesn’t play out like a story of a predictable Disney princess, but as a true quest where she fails and learns. The film is a stunning contrast between her two worlds – a reality filled with the horrors of war, and an enchanting labyrinth that holds a promise. The two spill into and reflect each other. As war surrounds her daily life she escapes into a world not far from her own and navigates this bizarre world for a more hopeful ending to all the chaos. It can be said that the creatures she encounter in the fantasy world are not far from her real world, and there’s a subtle ambiguity here about a child’s imagination and the power of stories to deal with the horrors of one’s life.

All the actors here are great as archetypal characters – the defiant maid, the noble doctor and the cruel army captain. The lead steals the show from the more experienced  cast, but the fantastical creatures stand out the most. The practical effects made believable creatures. They’re are surreal and ominous but you can tell that they’re not intentionally malevolent which makes them interesting.

Unlike most fairy tales, the movie ends with a twist on the happily ever after. Although the film is filled with stark images, you are left, for a moment heartbroken, and then hopeful.

Pans Labyrinth is both a great allegory and an epic fairy tale. When most of what we have nowadays as fantasy is a derivative, Pans labyrinth shows us something creative and wildly original. It’s tale about the power of a story, a child’s imagination, bravery against all odds, and how endings can lead to unexpected yet better beginnings.

My Rating:  10/10

Movie Art Poster by Peter Strain