Fairyland nightmare

Fairyland nightmare

Pan’s Labyrinth missed out on the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film on Monday but this month it’s nominated for eight British Academy Awards (BAFTAs) and 13 Goya Awards (Spain’s Oscar equivalent).

Not bad for a fairly low-budget adult fairytale-cum-horror movie from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, best known here for two Hollywood comic book adaptations, Hellboy and Blade II.

Still, Hellboy was well worth seeing, and back in 2001 del Toro directed the Spanish-language feature The Devil’s Backbone, a disturbing ghost story which in some ways paved the way for his new triumph.

Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are both set in the 1940s during Spain’s devastating civil war and both centre on a child, isolated in some way, who comes into contact with the supernatural elements of the story. In Pan‘s case, it’s 11-year-old Of?a, whose recently widowed mother Carmen is now pregnant to her new husband, a brutal captain in Franco’s army.

Despite Carmen’s serious illness, he has brought them to his house in rebel territory because, he says, a new son should be born close to its father. To escape the unpleasant realities of her new life, Of?a plunges into the world of the forest, led by stick insects which morph into fairies and introduce her to Pan, a tall faun, who is half-goat, half-man.

He recognises her as Moanna, the lost princess of the underworld, who can be reunited to her father, the king, if she completes three fearsome tasks. These involve encounters with some hideous monsters, but they pale into insignificance compared to the inescapable horrors of Spain’s civil war.

The marvellously scary captain is played by handsome Sergi L?. He was menacing as the title character in the hit French thriller Harry, He’s Here To Help (2000) and as the hotel manager in Stephen Frears’s Dirty Pretty Things.

Here he’s up against the stunning Maribel Verd?remember her as the housewife who taught two horny teens valuable life lessons in Alfonso Cuar? sexy Y Tu Mam?ambi?/em>? In Pan she’s much less glamorous as Mercedes, the captain’s housekeeper who’s secretly helping the rebels in the hills.

Mercedes is Of?a’s heroic adult counterpart in the real world and gets to demonstrate her skill with a kitchen knife in one horrific action scene -“ you may wish to avert your eyes at her victim’s do-it-yourself surgery trying to repair the damage she inflicts.

Del Toro has mostly used clever make-up effects rather than digital technology to create the world of Pan’s Labyrinth (Doug Jones from Hellboy is almost unrecognisable playing two of the monsters). It’s a brilliant and complex creation with an unexpectedly thought-provoking ending, well worthy of the 20-minute ovation it received at Cannes last May.

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