Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. 2006. R. 112mins. In Spanish with subtitles. Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo, Doug Jones.
Mexican horror-fantasy specialist Del Toro crashes the A-list of modern cinematic mythmakers with this intoxicating grown-up fairy tale set during the Spanish Civil War.
A girl named Ofelia (Baquero, a splendidly natural juvenile) and her pregnant mother, Carmen (Gil), travel to a rural garrison under the iron command of Carmen’s second husband, Capt. Vidal (López). A walking embodiment of fascism, Vidal has pledged to exterminate the local Republican insurgency, unaware that the resistance has infiltrated the civilian personnel of the fort. Repelled by her brutal stepfather, Ofelia takes refuge in an eldritch but beautiful fairyland ruled by the nature god Pan (Jones, whose astounding physical eloquence is unmuffled by a ton of eerie prosthetics). Sinister and charismatic by turns, the gigantic faun tells Ofelia that she’s a princess of the underworld, but gives her three terrifying magical tasks to complete before she can claim her throne.
A poem feast for eye and heart alike, Labyrinth sets a new standard for the emotionally satisfying application of digital effects. Del Toro’s deceptively simple screenplay brims with resonant connections between its mythical and realistic plotlines. And while it’s far too intense, violent and frightening for children, it’ll bring receptive adults closer to recovering the prismatic, pagan weirdness of the child mind than any film since The Spirit of the Beehive. (Opens Fri; see www.timeout.com/chicago/nowplaying for showtimes.)—Cliff Doerksen