Pan’s Labyrinth is a thoroughly mediocre movie—not egregiously bad, but dull and unremarkable and easy to dismiss. At least, it would be easy to dismiss, were it not for the insane across-the-board critical acclaim that it’s managed to garner. It’s not enough for these people to say “go see a sweet little fantasy flick, it’s good;” they must instead find deep and redemptive significance in what is at best a fairy tale retread with fascist gunfight appendices. But the fact that the film is a repetition of the fairy tale structure is exactly what people find so profound: Roger Ebert led the charge with his predictable declaration of “A fairy tale for grown-ups!“that was mirrored by other critics, as if dressing up a bedtime story with Francoreferences and bloodshed were doing anything other than gilding a wilted lily.
The film itself does little to engage the mind. We are introduced to 12-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) as she drives with an official escort into a forest compound somewhere in Spain; it’s the waning days of WWII, and her new stepfather—the bloodthirsty fascist Vidal (Sergi López)—has designs on her pregnant mother’s child, which he expects to be the son to carry on his name. In true fairy-tale fashion, the film sets up the Wicked Step-parent as an oppressive ogre so as to give the put-upon child a reason to fantasize—and perhaps subconsciously call those fantasies to life. Sure enough, she’s soon visited by a fairy who leads her into an abandoned forest labyrinth to find a wacky-looking faun (Doug Jones) at the center. Turns out Ofelia’s the reincarnation of a long-lost princess from a fantasy world (whatever it’s called; I blacked out during the exposition), and that she has to perform some tasks in order to restore her position.