That being said, I really did enjoy Pan's Labyrinth, though I get more pleasure from it by remembering it than I did from the immediate experience sometimes... Anything where children are in mortal harm automatically makes things a little more frightening and after this scene where a man is beaten with a bottle... well, you get the sense that the people making this movie would then have no qualms about hurting kids.
From the NY Times:
Set in a dark Spanish forest in a very dark time — 1944, when Spain was still in the early stages of the fascist nightmare from which the rest of Europe was painfully starting to awaken — “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children’s story — with its clearly marked poles of good and evil, its narrative of dispossession and vindication — illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life?Ofelia is a girl (played by Ivana Baquero, 11 at the time of the filming) who reads endlessly and even though her mother tells her that she's too old for fairy tales. Her mother is in a difficult position where the rejection of fairy tales where someone else offers hope is perhaps necessary... widowed with a daughter, she has remarried a fascist Captain and is undergoing a painful pregnancy. The Captain insists that a son should be born into the world near his father, and so Ofelia and her mother have made an ill-advised trip to the Captain's woodland outpost where he fights the rebels and terrorizes the local people.
The brilliance of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is that its current of imaginative energy runs both ways. If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician. The director, Guillermo Del Toro, unapologetically and unpretentiously swears allegiance to a pop-fantasy tradition that encompasses comic books, science fiction and horror movies, but fan-boy pastiche is the last thing on his mind. He is also a thoroughgoing cinephile, steeped in classical technique and film history.
In the midst of all this painful reality, Ofelia holds out that maybe, just maybe, there is magic in the world. And so the fantasy that results may or may not be all in her mind... if it's real or not it isn't quite the point. In this world, Ofelia is possibly the reincarnated daughter of the king of the underworld; the princess ran away to the upperworld and was blinded by the light, but the king always knew she would one day return. To validate her claim, Ofelia is guided by dragonflies turned fairies and a frightening faun (hence, Pan) that she finds at the bottom of a long, winding staircase in the middle of a labyrinth next to the military's camp. If she completes a set of tasks, then the faun tells her that she will be welcomed back to her true father's kingdom.
Of course, in the world above ground, the fascist army tries to destroy a resistence group that hides in the woods. The only person to take true notice of Ofelia is Mercedes, a servant in the camp who also smuggles things to the rebels, including her brother. She insists that she is not brave, but naturally, it is those that say this that often step up to be truly fantastic in their actions. As Ofelia completes her tasks, Mercedes delivers letters and guides the doctor to the rebel camp. If there is any hope for Ofelia in the real world, we know that it lies in Mercedes.
This movie is truly fascinating to watch and while I may have winced and grimaced or muffled my surprise, I never once closed my eyes. The most obviously interesting image was the monster who ate children -- as Ofelia creeps through his lair (filled with empty children's shoes), he remains motionless until she gives in to temptation and eats a grape from his table. With slowness, he rises, taking his time... and with his eyes in his hands, he lumbers after her. Of course, this obviously fantastic image is contrasted with that which might seem rather mundane after that, but ultimately made more of an impression on me: the hauntingly beautiful and terrifying woods that surround everything, shielding fantasty and reality, allowing both to coexist. Because ultimately, you don't know if her fantasies are a reality... and it's not asking you to make some kind of call on it like the Giver, thank you. Both perspectives are important to the story, though ultimately, reality proves to be more frightening than anything we can imagine.