Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: Unrated but should be R for very intense violence and mature themes. In Spanish with English subtitles
Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
del Toro crafts a captivating yet deadly gothic fairy tale rich with the sorrow
of the postwar repression of Francisco Franco’s
Fantasy meets a brutal reality when young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) arrives with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil as Carmen) at a rural military outpost commanded by her forbidding stepfather Capitán Vidal (Sergi Lopez).
Upon arrival Ofelia is of two minds; frightened and powerless in the face of her stepfather’s icy demeanor yet enchanted by tiny dragonfly fairies that only she can see.
The abandoned mill cum military base is a sinister place, crawling with armed soldiers on the lookout for resistance fighters hiding in nearby hills. Only sympathetic housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) appears to sense Ofelia’s anxiety, quietly escorting her to a neglected garden labyrinth where she can be on her own.
As Carmen takes to her bed and turns her focus to her unborn son Ofelia immerses herself in a world of whimsy presided over by a fearsome faun (Doug Jones) and his freakish henchman who assign Ofelia a trio of tasks in order for her to claim immortality.
Ofelia’s underground realm is dark as pitch and eerie to boot. Fetching pixies jockey with hideous ogres for her attention while the Capitán continues down a warpath of violence and torture in the real world. Monsters of the mind coming to terms with gruesome real-life horrors; a brilliant juxtaposition of truth and imagination guaranteed to lay waste to every emotion.