Happy Monster Monday, fiends! I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m cheating a bit. Today’s monster does not come from a horror movie. But the monster is so terrifying and the actor/director duo has such a high horror pedigree that I’m allowing myself a little leeway. I’m speaking, of course, of Doug Jones and Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic collaboration Pan’s Labyrinth:
Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark fairy tale that takes place a few years after the Spanish Civil War. Our heroine Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) has just moved in with her stepfather, an army captain whose mission is to hunt down and torture the remaining Republican rebels. At his estate, Ofelia discovers what she believes to be a fairy, which leads her to an ancient labyrinth. Here Ofelia meets a faun (played by Doug Jones) who convinces her she is a mythical princess and gives her three tasks to complete in order to return to her lost kingdom (and in so doing escape her brutal stepfather and the violence and cruelty he represents).
Ofelia completes her first task and retrieves a key from the belly of a giant toad. For her second task, the Faun tells her to use the key to retrieve a dagger from the lair of the Pale Man (also played by Jones), a child-eating monster. The Faun warns Ofelia not to eat anything there lest she awaken the Pale Man. Being a child in a fairy tale, she is contractually bound to ignore this warning, so she eats two grapes from the banquet table and sets off a terrifying chase sequence that lets Doug Jones show the audience what makes him the world’s greatest creature actor.
I wrote earlier that we just have one monster today, and that’s true. The Pale Man and the Faun (and the toad, in fact) are the same creature. The Pale Man is the more famously terrifying of the two incarnations, but the Faun is no more trustworthy than that child-eating nightmare, despite the Faun’s insistence that he is there to help Ofelia. He is devious and ill-tempered; with such a mercurial ally, there is no respite from the unease that the audience feels watching Ofelia navigate a world where she is constantly at risk. The danger and uncertainty that surround Ofelia in the real world cannot be escaped in a land of fantasy, and betrayal can be found just as easily in fairy tales as in the mundane world around us.
Ofelia’s third and final task is more complicated than the first two; suffice to say, there is no simple “happily ever after” here. In true fairy tale fashion, Pan’s Labyrinth is terrifying, tragic, and bittersweet. Though not a horror movie in the strictest sense, it’s a beautiful film with unforgettable monsters, both fairy tale and human alike.