Guillermo del Toro
9/10 (fantasy film for adults? (‘tweener syndrome))
I love this movie. It’s not often that you sit down to a film knowing little to nothing about it and are treated from the very first minute to a supremely confident telling of an utterly original fantasy/war epic. Guillermo del Toro has done that here. Though I haven’t seen his equally-acclaimed “El Espinazo del Diablo,” I would be surprised if it were better than this. And surprise surprise, the “Academy” got it wrong again. Not only does “Pan’s” blow Scorsese’s trite “The Departed” (the Best Picture winner) out of the water, but it was better than the entire Best Picture field! “Babel”? Please. “Little Miss Sunshine”? Shah. “Letters from Iwo Jima” I like you Clint, but no. Ironically, “Pan’s” lost Best Foreign Language film to the German “The Lives of Others,” which is actually comparable in quality. Of course, putting actual good films in the Best Picture category is too much to expect from these idiot experts.
The first clue to the movie’s ingenuity comes within the first 5 minutes. You have already been introduced to the main character, young Ofelia, her mother and wicked stepfather (Sergi Lopez’ “Captain Vidal”), and a small grasshopper-like insect that seems to be communicating with Ofelia. Then, while she’s in her bed, the freaky bug returns and as she watches, it transforms with rearranging limbs and painful discomfort into a small wood fairy. The fairy leads Ofelia into the estate’s labyrinth, where she soon meets the Faun, a hulking, twisted goat/man monster that looks to be made out of dirt, tree roots and other decaying matter. These effects are the first hint that the movie is going to be special. You don’t have shiny polished little elves and a sparkling maze. Instead, del Toro gives you a dark, earthy, sinister place that looks as dangerous as it is fantastic. The creature designs really set the tone for the film, and it’s a tone that del Toro continues throughout. It’s an organic portrayal of fantasy, not something that takes place in a different “Alice in Wonderland” universe but something that could quite easily exist side-by-side with our everyday reality.
The plot is complex. The Faun tells Ofelia that she might be the Princess Moanna spoken of in the film’s prologue, but in order to find out she has to pass some tests. Meanwhile her pregnant mother is sick and worsening, and her psychopathic father (one of the most chilling villains you will ever see outside of Darth Vader) is hunting the local anti-fascist guerrillas that are hiding in the nearby mountains.
It’s really not necessary to know more. Be warned that there is gruesome violence that is borderline gratuitous, and all the more shocking for being in what I thought was a children’s movie. But this is no kidflick. While the fantasy aspect is enthralling, and at times genuinely frightening, del Toro spends as much time or more on the real-world conflict between Vidal’s Francoist soldiers and the nearby guerrillas (whom are abetted by some well-placed spies among the Captain’s household). My only complaint with the film is that these two stories don’t truly synch up. Sure, Vidal is the common villain between both worlds, and Lopez does an incredible job in the role, but the movie feels like two separate stories. Ultimately it feels like a captivating, brutal war story that is unforgettably spiced up with amazingly creative fantasy sequences.
You need to see this film. It is oh-so-close to a 10 but I just don’t completely feel it that way. Maybe I’ll change my mind. But none of that changes the fact that you will be a worse person if you don’t see it. Do it already! Just watch out for the hand-eye monster. You’ll know the one when you see it.
26 March 2010