★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Pan’s Labyrinth was one of my favorite films of the year when it came out in 2006 and, since then, I have also enjoyed both installments of the Hellboy franchise. These films, along with the one in review, were all directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. I put this film in my queue on Netflix a while back because it was a del Toro film, but at that time, didn’t realize that this film is supposedly considered the “brother” film to his later release Pan’s Labyrinth. The two films do share many similarities. The story centers around a young protagonist during a time of civil unrest, both contain elements of fantasy/horror and both have cinematography that uses a rich contrasting color palette of deep blues and blazing oranges.
A young boy dies at the beginning of the film and is drowned in a reservoir in the kitchen basement of an orphanage, though we don’t see how he died. After the head credits, another boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve), is brought to the orphanage by several rebels who are currently fighting in the Spanish Civil War because his father died in the war. Being a new kid, Carlos is picked on and has to prove himself amongst the other children. However, the ghost of the young boy who died at the beginning, also makes appearances to him and tries to warn him of impending danger to all at the orphanage. Without giving too much away, the remainder of the film unravels what happened to the young ghost boy and what dangers Carlos and the others must avert to stay alive.
This film, like Pan’s Labyrinth, has an epic feel to it, though it is not overtly long. It is visually stunning and has a very high production value. Also, del Toro seems to be very adept at handling child actors, as the majority adolescent cast in this film are all superb, as was the young girl in Pan’s Labyrinth. In addition, since he came from a visual effects background, the visual effects in the film are also very well done. More importantly, however, is that the story itself is very intriguing and the high production values just help further illicit the beauty and horror of the story itself.
If you really enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth, then I highly reccomend this film. If you haven’t seen either of these films, then I highly suggest that you try one or the other to see if it is a style fitting you. Unfortunately, del Toro hasn’t directed a film since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. After seeing another effort like this from him, I hope he won’t stay away from behind the camera much longer, though we do have Peter Jackon’s The Hobbit that was co-penned by del Toro to look forward to soon.