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Pan's Labyrinth

A Grim Fairytale, for Adults

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Hellboy) brings us a magical fable that is every much as frightening as it is beautiful. Although it is not scary in the way of a horror movie but in the way of a suspenseful drama, and it is not beautiful in a superficial special effects way but in a more soulful, profound manner. It is unique in every sense of the word.

In Pan's Labyrinth the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced to move to the countryside by her mother Carmen's (Ariadna Gil) new husband, the vicious and cruel Captain (Sergi López), so that he can witness the birth of his soon-to-be-born heir while flushing out the surrounding forests of rebels who are fighting against his regime. Soon after she arrives, Ofelia discovers a secret world full of insects that morph into fairies and a slightly menacing faun who reveals to Ofelia that she is actually a long lost princess -- Princess Moanna -- of an underground kingdom.

He tells her that in order to prove that her soul has not become mortal, she has to complete three tasks before the full moon. If she passes these tests she may claim her rightful place and return to her kingdom. The tasks, however, are not for the faint hearted and test her abilities as much as her courage, which is a commodity that she needs a lot of courage as her mother is sick, her stepfather is a sadistic bastard and her faun guide is just plain old creepy.

Pan's Labyrinth consists of two parallel stories: the guerrillas fighting against a fascism government and Ofelia struggling through her tasks. There is much at stake for both. One of the most compelling characters is Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), the Captain's housekeeper/secret rebel informant who keeps an eye out for Ofelia while also aiding the guerrillas as much as possible. Verdú steals every scene in which she appears; she also stars in the movie's most gruesome scene.

Del Toro does not miss a note in this movie. The direction is amazing, the story is inspired, the special effects are pitch-perfect and the acting is indelible. Ivana Baquero as Ofelia raises the bar for all actresses her age. Simply put: the movie is brilliant.

While the protagonist is a young girl, make no mistake, this is a movie for adults. The themes are advanced and the mood of the film can best be described as three-quarters dark and one-quarter light, which is the point del Toro was trying to make -- that there can be goodness and beauty found in the most desperate of circumstances. He makes that point very well in this, one of the best movies of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars