When Em and I saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe last Xmas, she turned to me when Mr. Tumnus, the faun, appeared on-screen for the first time and whispered, "He's hot!" Last night, we saw El Laberinto del Fauno, or as it's being called in English, Pan's Labyrinth. I guess the folks in charge of coming up with and English title figured that most Americans don't know what a faun is. Or maybe they decided that Pan's Labyrinth is catchier than The Labyrinth of the Faun (and I suppose they're probably right on both counts) - but I digress. The point is that Em didn't mention thinking the faun was hot at any point during or after last night's screening.
The faun is, in fact, quite creepy, and is one among many. Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale in the old, pre-Disney sense of the term. It's got a magical quest, it's got fairies and monsters, but it's definitely not about sweetness and light and "happily ever after." It's dark (not to be all emo on you here; in this case, the term is apt), it's disturbing and unsettling, and it's without a doubt the best movie I've seen in a long, long time.
One of the reasons I loved this movie is that it is concerned with aspects of storytelling that fascinate me personally - the fine line between fantasy and reality, the value of escapism alongside its perils, and the way all of us cling to fantasies of our own that help us get through our lives. As viewers, we're free to interpret as we see fit. Perhaps the young heroine, Ofelia, is only imagining it when the faun tells her that she is the long-lost princess of a magical realm. If so, she's not that much different than her mother, her stepfather, or many others in the film who cling desperately to delusions of their own, less fantastic than Ofelia's though probably no more realistic.
There are monsters in Ofelia's perhaps-imaginary realm - creepiest of all is the one I've dubbed the "Eyeball Monster," as pictured above - but in the end, they pale in comparison to the monster who dominates Ofelia's life and the film. Every fairy tale needs a good villain, and Pan's Labyrinth has a great one. Captain Vidal, Ofelia's stepfather, is brutal and sadistic, but both the writer/director and the actor manage to keep him just on the right side of the line between fantastic, compelling villain and silly, cartoonish mustache-twirler.
This movie was, for me, the kind that Roger Ebert refers to as an out-of-body experience. I became so wrapped up in it that I more or less forgot I was watching a movie and felt that I was there, that it was an experience I was having personally. I can't recommend it highly enough. If it's playing anywhere near you, anywhere within 50 miles, it's worth the drive, it's worth the time, and it's more than worth the nine bucks.