In post World-War II Spain, the young Ofelia (Ivana Paquero) is on a journey with her very pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to their new home, complete with a new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Ofelia, by all accounts, is reluctant to accept this man, while her mother requests that she refers to him as “Father”. Vidal has converted an old mill and keeps his squadron nearby, as well as the employ of the local doctor (Alex Angulo). The country itself is still at war, so Vidal and his troops continue to battle the local guerillas. That’s Vidal’s mentality: constant preoccupation with battling.
With her mother going through an extremely difficult pregnancy, the Captain’s indifference towards her, and the country’s strife, the only escape Ofelia has are her beloved fairy tales. Her unhappy life has her retreating more and more into her stories, which brings her to the Labyrinth. The keeper of the Labyrinth is a faun: half-human, half-goat (also known by its Greek mythology counterpart, satyr) (Doug Jones). While is name is virtually unpronounceable by humans, he informs Ofelia that she is the princess of a kingdom, and in order to ascend to her throne, she needs to complete certain tasks. She naturally comes across grotesque and dangerous situations, but when she returns home dirty or disheveled, she is still greeted with chastising, but mostly again, indifference.
Meanwhile, two members of Vidal’s staff: Mercedes, the housekeeper and cook, and the doctor are secretly helping the guerillas, one being Mercedes’ brother. They naturally risk their own lives if Vidal were to find out.
After Carmen gives birth to her son, and dies, Vidal completely casts off Ofelia, in favor of his own boy. That’s the moment where the line between fantasy and reality gets completely obliterated. The pain that Ofelia feels can only be released when she gets on that throne. Mercedes, herself, has become a mother figure to the girl, but she faces her own difficulties at the hands of Vidal. This would be a good time to point out that Captain Vidal is despicable, vile, and cruel. You are set up from the beginning to loathe this man, and believe me, you do!
Visually, this movie is dark and stunning. The special effects and makeup are outlandish and spectacular. The separate storylines are combined seamlessly, as not to confuse anyone. Overall, it was appealing to all of the senses, especially since this film is done in Spanish. If this also doesn’t generate some nominations and awards for its cinematography and special effects, there’s a problem. Definitely put this on your list of films to see this year!
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