Living with her tyrannical stepfather in a new home with her pregnant mother, 10-year-old Ofelia feels alone until she explores a decaying labyrinth guarded by a mysterious faun who claims to know her destiny. If she wishes to return to her real father, Ofelia must complete three terrifying tasks.
"The captain has been so good to us... Please, Ofelia, call him 'father'. It's just a word, Ofelia, just a word..."... So Pan's Labyrinth's rather underrated screenplay deftly introduces one of the film's main themes; including but not limited to how Spain's ruling class has come to an accommodation with fascism from within, rather than being subject to a foreign invasion. But will Ofelia—the film's surrogate for curious and innocent Spain herself—prove herself to hold the true, unblemished essence to see the Republic to a postfascist world?
Rewatching this many years on, I didn't remember how much more mainstream and/or Oscar appeal than I thought. This evinces itself in the movie's few flaws: Mercedes does have a moment of doubt, but both she and the marquis partisans are a little too noble, a little too paint-by-numbers, to be effective foils to the almost-as-caricatured fascists. Their near-cartoon depictions are neither historically informed ('Homage to Catalonia' will give you some rough idea of the social dynamics of partisan groups) but they also feel strange placed amidst the film's confidence in the viewer to parse the rich visual and textual symbols and metaphors just below the surface.