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55. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Pan's Labyrinth

June 7, 2018

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo
Runtime: 119 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 2006

 

★★★★★

 

In many ways a spiritual successor to the undeniably brilliant Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth is dark fantasy set in the bowels of Franco’s Spain, exploring the themes of defiance, immortality and the acceptance of death through the eyes of both its fighters, and a child growing up in a relentlessly cruel world - a parable utilising the guise of fantasy as a means of facilitating its legitimate horrors.

 

Made believable through both its gorgeously imaginative set design and attractive photography, Guillermo del Toro’s world feels as real and grounded as any period picture, while Javier Navarrete’s score is anchored by one of the most memorable melodies in cinema history. The reliance on the practicality of makeup effects and the sparse use of digital effects keeps the film feeling timeless. Del Toro’s screenplay is a faultless accomplishment regarding its dialogue, tone, thematic balance, storytelling and characterisation amongst its intensely rich plethora of performances.

 

The casting of the young Ivana Baquero as Ofelia is fantastically beneficial to the story, as she is extraordinary at carrying the weight of her characters burden upon her shoulders, while Sergi López as the mistrustful stepfather and Falange officer is a strikingly menacing villain. Maribel Verdú has been a mainstay of Spanish cinema for years, and yet here she gives one of the best performances of her career as Mercedes. Meanwhile, the heavy lifting on the fantasy spectrum is held up gracefully by the impossibly talented Doug Jones, whose terrific performance work as the titular Faun, as well as the nightmarish Pale Man, etches all of these figures into the mind.

 

Even following the film’s convoluted and tricky journey to the screen through accidental circumstance and disaster in pre-production, Pan’s Labyrinth remains del Toro’s enduring masterpiece, and one of the highest peaks of cinema in the 21st century.

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