Bright Lights Film Journal

Not A-Mazed by Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth disappointed me. Not that it’s a bad film, but after reading some of the raves this “fairy tale for adults” has received I was expecting something new and different. Instead, I saw a Guillermo del Toro fantasy that was pretty much like every other Guillermo del Toro movie I have seen (Cronos, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone) with the same basic plot: “Freaks vs. Fascists.”

Del Toro’s earlier Hellboy may have been a relatively impersonal studio project that was, in turn, closely based on a comic book, but it’s remarkably similar to Pan in design and theme, and considerably more entertaining. Just substitute Hellboy‘s Selma Blair for Pan‘s little Ofelia, Ron Perlman’s horned Hellboy for Pan‘s sinister faun, Hellboy‘s Nazis for Pan‘s Spanish fascists, shake well and stir. If anything, the pulp comic-book tone of Hellboy made the one-dimensional characterization of its fascist villains appropriate and forgivable, where in Pan’s Labyrinth the one-dimensional characterization of Ofelia’s villainous stepfather, a captain in Franco’s army, clashes with the film’s aspirations toward realism and social significance. This is hardly one of the greatest fantasies ever made. It’s not even the best del Toro film ever made. At the film’s climax, the evil stepdad chases the little girl through the labyrinth of the title and, hey, didn’t we already see something like that in Kubrick’s The Shining? The one genuinely outstanding aspect of Pan’s Labyrinth is the performance of Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mama También) as a housemaid secretly working for the Resistance. Clichéd in conception, but given substance by the actress’s depth and conviction. (And what a face!)