This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Nobody in my social circle will shut up about Pan’s Labyrinth, and with good reason – I was genuinely expecting it to sink without a trace. At the end you can probably chalk this up to good marketing; as Dan points out elsewhere, most folk seemed to expect a sinister fairytale with lots of pretty imagery and a few good scares, and what they got was an examination of Spanish fascism. With Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, a somewhat soulless Narnia adaptation and soon Eragon and Dungeon Siege dancing across the screen and walloping us across the head with orchestras, it’s good to know that people are still making fantasy films that mean something.
On the other hand, they always were. There’s at least two films of recent years – Innocence by Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Terry Gilliam’s Tideland – which plow incredibly similar furrows to Pan’s Labyrinth. The formula seems simple – take a likeable young girl, put her in a bad situation, make it gradually nastier and scarier until she finally escapes her plight, and then use that situation as a means of making a point about something profound.