Okay, by all accounts (just look at the Rotten Tomatoes link at the bottom of this page) Pan's Labyrinth is an excellent movie, artistically speaking. However, I went to see it this weekend. On the way to the theater I was in a fantastic mood -- smiling, happy, singing! On the way home I felt kind of dazed, I was so depressed.
It was violent, gory and relentless, and the elements of fantasy were not "enchanting" as I had been led to believe by pull quotes from reviews, but in fact disturbing and creepy. Make no mistake: this is a HORROR film. But the true horror didn't come from the otherworldly fantasy elements; it came from the inhumanity of the human characters.
Set during World War II, a few years after Franco had taken power in Spain, this movie follows a young girl and her pregnant mother as they join the mother's new husband, an insanely violent army captain, at the country house he and his troops are occupying. The girl has a penchant for fairy stories and soon finds herself completing tasks in order to win back the throne of a fantasy kingdom of which she is the reincarnated princess. Meanwhile, out in the real world, her mom's pregnancy isn't going so well and her stepfather is busy trying to kill anti-Franco guerilla forces who come out of the woods.
If you are a fan of artistic fantasy horror films, will you be able to follow this movie? I managed pretty well, but it did require a bit of floating. Also, it is in Spanish with English subtitles, so you do have to focus some of your mental energy on reading if you don't speak the language.
The main character is Ofelia, a little girl of around 11 or 12. She's the only kid in the movie. And of course, the fantasy characters are all pretty distinctive! There's also a doctor, who dresses and acts differently than any other man in the film.
Ofelia's mother is sick and pregnant. The only other adult woman the camera follows is Mercedes, who's sort of the head of the housekeeping staff. If you see a woman up and about, it's Mercedes.
None of the soldiers matter except Captain Vidal. And yes, that's him shaving, and yes, that's him that they call out to deal with the local man they caught hunting in the woods. If the movie is focusing on a uniformed soldier, it's probably the Captain. He has a couple of other high-ranking soldiers under him, but they are interchangeable as far as the plot is concerned.
The guerillas are harder to tell apart, and in fact one of them tricked even my non-faceblind partner. There are three guerillas who matter to the plot. One is wounded and the doctor comes to take care of him; after that scene you don't see him again. The other two are a stuttering man and the guerilla leader, who look similar enough to fool a non-faceblind person. At one significant point, I asked "Is that the leader?" and got the answer "yes!" But in the next scene, he stuttered, so we knew we were both wrong. It may have been all the subtitle-reading, drawing attention away from learning faces, or they could have been just that similar.
So, if you are going to see this movie, it's not the best from a FB perspective, but it's manageable. Just make sure to not worry about all the extra guerillas and soldiers, and prepare yourself for despair. And keep in mind that at least, as they always said on Saturday Night Live, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!
Good movie? 3/5
Good for FB Folks? 3/5
More reviews: Rotten Tomatoes