The theater screened previews for several dreadful-looking horror movies before showing Pan’s Labyrinth, and that puzzled me at first. I rarely see previews for this kind of dreck—they just don’t appear before the films I usually attend—so why were they playing now? Then I remembered that Pan’s Labyrinth is, technically, a horror movie itself. The villain, a viciously sadistic captain under Generalísimo Franco, gleefully tortures resistance fighters he captures, and numerous freakish, mythical creatures make appearances as well. It is a horror movie, but to put it in the same category as a banal monster-attack flick or soulless torture-porn seems terribly unjust.
Writer-director Guillermo del Toro takes the familiar tropes and grotesqueries of horror and uses them to tell a fairy tale. Such a meld might have been perverse, but del Toro’s sensitive treatment of his young protagonist elevates both genres. Pan’s Labyrinth is horrifying but beautiful, a heartbreaking tale of an innocent struggling against a very dark world.