The critically acclaimed fantasy flick "Pan's Labyrinth" has just been released on DVD. Here, in an exclusive guest column for MTV News, "300" director Zack Snyder enthuses about the film that knocked him out last year.
What is horror? It sure as hell isn't any of the steaming tripe Hollywood has been feeding us lately. Horror is supposed to be about deeply felt terror and the revulsion that accompanies a hideous revelation. But we are currently eyeball-deep in the corpses of butchered Abercrombie-ad denizens we never cared about, who have been running shrilly through slasher scenarios we don't believe.
We've traded terror for shock, and revulsion for the simply gross. Is this town completely bankrupt of ideas as far as the genre is concerned, or is there a shining light at the end of the machete?
One glimmer of hope comes from south of the border in the form of Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," which gets my vote for scariest film of 2006. While it isn't a horror film per se, it certainly deals with more horrific themes and delves more deeply into the darker side of our sensibilities than any so-called horror flick in recent memory. And it's a fairy tale. Think old-school fairy tale. Think Grimm, not Disney.
And yet, this frightening, touching and often gruesome tale takes place in a world that is so perfectly rendered that the events of that world seem all the more real to us. The fact that this world straddles the realms of fantasy and reality makes this an even more amazing achievement.
One major aspect of the film that adds to the tension the viewer experiences is the ambiguous nature of the fantasy sequences, a hallmark of magical realism. Are they simply the products of Ofelia's imagination, or are they actually happening? Even if they take place entirely within the confines of the little girl's mind, their visceral impact can't be denied.
The lanky faun, seemingly distilled directly from a child's nightmare, is an ominous presence throughout the film. His grotesque appearance, along with his flashes of bestial anger at Ofelia's failings, fuels our suspicions that he is not all that he pretends to be. Still, this hideous messenger is all the hope our heroine has, and she reluctantly trusts him despite her dread.
The fantasy/horror aesthetic is most fully realized in the sequence with the Pale Man, a cannibalistic creature with eyes on the palms of his hands. We fear Ofelia will not heed the faun's advice thus placing herself in mortal danger, and we are not disappointed. His gobbling of fairy guts leaves us with no doubt as to the extent of the Pale Man's carnal hunger and what he'll do to Ofelia if he should catch her. The entire sequence is at once terrifying and beautiful — we are repulsed by and drawn to the images at the same time.
No less horrifying are the events that take place in the "real" world around Ofelia. She is living in the midst of a war between the Fascists and a waning, ultimately doomed resistance movement.
Ofelia's stepfather, Capitán Vidal, is as merciless in hunting down the rebels as the Pale Man is ravenous. Between pulverizing a suspected sympathizer's face with a bottle and carrying out an evidently well-rehearsed session of torture on a captured fighter, Vidal also blends his cruelty with selfish vanity, being more concerned with his heroic legacy than the life of his own wife. Vidal's actions hold up a mirror to us as a species, and that is where the true horror lies. At the climax, when Ofelia must confront this man, the greatest monster in the whole film, however alien and terrifying her fantasy world is, we hope beyond reason that it is, in fact, real.
"Pan's Labyrinth" brings to the screen a new experience: an adult fairy tale that is scarier than most horror films. Horror fans that check it out will find plenty of what they crave, and a lot more.
Check out everything we've got on "Pan's Labyrinth."
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