I’ve heard about this movie, not the plot but just the name, as being a must-see and a fabulous film. I thought it was a horror movie but it isn’t. Finally after reading a couple of good reviews on some blogs, I thought I just have to watch this movie and I’m so glad that I did. Considering the fact that I hadn’t even seen a trailer (its there on Youtube but I just didn’t check it out) this movie was a pleasant surprise and amazing to watch. Director Guillermo Del Toro has such a wonderful imagination that is brought alive in this sad, dark and yet beautiful film. At first read you would think that this movie has a lot in common with Chronicles Of Narnia – don’t! This is not at all for kids and please don’t let you kids watch this until they grow much older. This is for adults who love to branch out their imagination.
Despite the fact that it is a Spanish language film and you have to deal with understanding the dialogues via the English subtitles, the movie never failed to engage me; not once was I not engrossed in it. Even when the fantastic creatures were not on the screen. The movie is set in the 1944 post Spanish civil war era during General Franco’s reign, when our main character Ofelia is traveling with her ill & pregnant mother to her stepfather’s cottage. Ofelia’s father, a tailor, passed away and her mother Carmen remarried the cruel, unjust & facist Captain Vidal who will do anything to wipe out the anti-fascist rebels. On the way to the house, when they stop in the woods, Ofelia sees a stick insect which follows the cars all the way to the cottage. She sees the insect there and runs behind it to the entrance of a labyrinth nearby. She is stopped from entering it by Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), the head maid or housekeeper of the cottage who is also a spy for the rebels.
Ofelia is fascinated by fairy tales & fables and believe the stick insect to be a fairy. A couple of nights later, she gets a visit from the insect, which turns itself into a little fairy like creature on the girl showing her a picture. The fairy leads her to the center of the labyrinth, where she meets the faun (Dough Jones), who believes that Ofelia is the spirit of an underworld princess. The story of Princess Moanna goes like this – fascinated with the humans, she went to the surface only to be blinded by the sun and lose her memory. She died soon after but the underworld king, her father, believes that her spirit will return one day. gives her three tasks to complete before the full moon to ensure that her essence is intact. The first task is to to feed a large toad 3 magic stones and retrieve the golden key from it’s regurgitated bile (yucky scene)! The second is to enter the lair of the Pale Man, by drawing an entrance in her room with chalk and pushing it open, and to retrieve an ornate dagger. The Pale Man has no eyes in his head but instead places them in his eyes to see his prey; he eats children!
Ofelia completes the first but when she is getting the dagger, she is tempted to eat some grapes from the feast left on the table of the Pale man. The faun had specifically told her not to give in to temptation and eat any of the food on the table but she still ate some. The Pale Man chases after her and she is just able to escape back to her room and avoid his clutches & sharp nails. The faun is upset with her and says that it will not help her and that she is to die a mortal. Meanwhile, Ophelia’s mother dies despite help from a magic mandrake root, that is shaped like & coos like a baby. Vidal finds out the root and to appease him, Carmen throws the root in the fire and at the same time she dies. The baby, a boy, is saved.
The other story is ofcourse the rebel movement, which is aided by Mercedes & a doctor who Vidal has in his payroll. The two of them supply information, food & medicine to the rebels, the leader of which is Mercedes’s brother Pedro. You just have to flinch at the brutality of Vidal – the way he beats a suspected rebel breaking his facial bones & skull with the butt end of his gun in a gruesome scene. The rebels are ambushed at one point and he tortures the only one captured alive. When Vidal uncovers that the doctor was aiding the rebels, he kills him on the spot. Vidal discovers that Mercedes is a spy, and he captures her and Ofelia as they attempt to escape. Ofelia is locked in her bedroom, and Mercedes is taken to be tortured; however, she frees herself with a hidden knife, badly injures Vidal by stabbing his shoulders & cutting him in the mouth.
She escapes with the soldiers right behind her and the encircle her about to attack when her brother & the rebels shoot and kill all the soldiers. Meanwhile Ofelia is visited by the faun, who decides to give her one more chance. Gratefully she falls into his arms as he tells her that she must get her baby brother and bring him to the middle of the labyrinth. With the soldiers all fighting off the rebels, only Vidal stands in her way. She hides and drops a sedative in his drink and picks up the baby and runs to meet the faun. Vidal, stumbles and chases after her. The faun tells Ofelia that to open the portal to the underworld, she needs to spill a little of an innocent’s blood – hence the baby. Ofelia refuses to harm her brother, and eventually Vidal finds her, seemingly talking to herself as the faun is not visible through his eyes. The faun leaves Ofelia to her choice, and Vidal takes the baby away from her, shooting her immediately after.
As he turns to leave, Mercedes and the rebels surround him. Knowing that he will surely die, he hands Mercedes his baby son and tells her to let him the time & date when his father died. She replies that his son will never even know Vidal’s name, just as her brother shoots the captain dead. Mercedes finds a bleeding & dying Ofelia and comforts her by humming a haunting lullaby, which is prevalent throughout the film. Drops of Ofelia’s blood spill onto the altar that is supposed to lead her into the underworld. Ofelia is reunited with the king and queen of the underworld. The faun is present too, and the king reveals to her that by shedding her own blood instead of the blood of an innocent, she has completed the final task and proven herself to be Princess Moanna. In the mortal world, Ofelia dies and Mercedes mourns her death. In an epilogue, a narration dictates that Princess Moanna ruled the underworld with a just and kind heart, but left behind “small traces of her time on earth, visible only to those who know where to look.”
Beautiful, ethereal, dark, saddening, disturbing, thought-provoking, engaging and totally enjoyable as a movie. You can call it a little girl’s escape from the harsh realities of the era during the Second World War and personal issues. This is also a war film and a reminder of the brutality of humans against his own kind.You can also look at the whole princess thing as just a little girl’s imagination as she tries to adjust to life and that in reality none of the things happened, except for the death & war stuff and the whole underworld stuff was just her way of coping with life (hinted in her known love for fairy tales). Either way you look at it, this movie is story telling at it’s artful best and you are drawn into the film. It’s the finest example of art, short term loans for students uk fable & real life mashing together that I have seen. I can’t recommend this movie any higher. I’d give it a 9 out of 10. Superb! Please watch it if you haven’t already.