DIrty Dozen – January Mission – Pan’s Labyrinth (1996)

Pan's Labyrinth

       I’m not afraid of movies with dark endings. Sean Penn’s The Pledge (2001) was a great movie with a fantastic performance by Jack Nicholson as a retired cop who’d go to extremely questionable lengths to find a child killer. Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007) had an ending so dark that Stephen King wished he’d thought of it. Anyone with knowledge of literature knows that the old fairy tales we heard as kids were somewhat sanitized from their far darker origins. Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro’s contribution to the world of fairy tales, and it’s dark.

Actually, let me rephrase that. Pan’s Labyrinth is Guillermo Del Toro’s contribution to the world of fairy tales, and it’s DARK.

Set in Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth is the story of Ofelia, a young girl who is forced to move with her pregnant mother to a military outpost to live with her stepfather, a vicious military officer. During their stay, she becomes fascinated by an old stone maze nearby, and eventually finds herself in a fantasy world. She’s greeted by several bizarre creatures as a long lost princess returned to her kingdom. To prove it, she’s required to perform several terrifying tasks. For those who haven’t seen it, I’m not going to add any more details, other than to remind you that this film is DARK.

I’ve never been a fan of fantasy films, though I can appreciate them. But if I’m going to enjoy a dark fantasy film, then there has to be some sort of lightness along the way. Pan’s Labyrinth has none. It starts dark, and it stays dark throughout. I can’t appreciate the darkness of the film is there’s no light to give it an emotional impact. For example, the similarly themed Blancanieves (2012) is a much more enjoyable fairy tale. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s dark, but there are moments of light which make the ending more poignant. Pan’s Labyrinth’s ending is sad, but so is the rest of the film. There are no ups; there are no downs. There’s just one tone throughout: unending dreariness. I enjoy a lot of Del Toro’s films. This one, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

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