Fantasy often gets labelled as escapism, a rather patronising but accurate description of the allure of the genre. A decent fantasy enmeshes you into another world, a more wondrous one, with magic, monsters and heroes, a place where the whites are whiter, the reds redder and the blacks blacker than the fields we know.
Of course, when it comes to darkness, the real world throws things up that are grimmer than almost anything we can imagine. Check out an account of the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia, or Stalin’s in Russia.
Pan’s Labyrinth brings together these two things – escapist fantasy and bleak reality – in one superb film. Set during the tail end of the Spanish Civil War, it’s writer-director Gillermo del Toro’s story a young girl who goes with her heavily pregnant mother into a forest, where her cruel stepfather is fighting left-wing rebels. While there, she is lured into a series of dangerous quests by a being living in an ancient labyrinth.
Be warned: this is NOT a film for children. Pan’s Labyrinth is dark fantasy, very dark indeed. It contains some of the nastiest scenes I have seen. Even for a film about a brutal period of history, some of the violence is excessive.
That is my only criticism of the film though, which is magnificent on all counts - acting, story, cinematography, costume, makeup, sound and special effects. It does bring you into other worlds – though ones you’re more likely to want to escape from than to.
Also highly recommended is Hot Fuzz. From the makers of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is like that film in that is both a tribute to and pisstake of a genre. It’s a hilarious merging of hard-boiled action film, rural English village murder mystery and outright kookiness. It goes on a bit long, but it still the most I’ve laughed in a cinema for a long time: 8/10