(R) Four stars
Experienced via the point of view of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a girl on the cusp of pubescence, Pan’s Labyrinth is set in the unspeakably cruel reality of post-war Spain under Franco. Our young protagonist arrives at a remote military outpost with her ailing mother Carmen (Ariadma Gil), whose pregnancy is greatly compromised. Running the outpost is the Captain (Sergi Lopez), who is the most evil stepfather you’d ever want to meet. In the forest around the outpost, a cadre of freedom fighters is growing.
With this as a backdrop, Ofelia finds — or invents — her own story. She discovers a labyrinth adjacent to the outpost, where the resident faun (Doug Jones) tells her she is the daughter of the king of the underworld. If she completes three tasks she’ll restore the underworld to its rightful beauty.
Writer/director/producer Guillermo del Toro’s film has been called a fairy tale for adults, harkening back to the grim Grimm history of fables, where pain and loss and malice were the status quo. Pan’s Labyrinth is well worth the whiplash you might experience spinning away from the moments of gruesome violence. It is Reservoir Dogs meets Roald Dahl meets pagan mythology in a gothic horror concoction sweet, bitter and beautiful.