If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, Grimm type fairytales, or Guillermo del Toro, I highly recommend the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. One of the many things that has stuck with me in addition to the amazing visuals, haunting story, and Guillermo del Toro’s wonderful creepy creatures is an exploration of the monstrous.
In the movie, a woman marries a Captain in the Spanish army, under the new facist regime, after the Spanish Civil War in 1944. The woman is pregnant with the Captain’s child, and the Captain really only cares about his unborn child. As the mother becomes increasingly ill during her pregnancy, the young girl stumbles upon a magical labyrinth and encounters a faun-like creature, who send her on a series of trials to maintain her essence, as the faun believes she is the reincarnation of a princess of the underworld.
She encounters many fantastic and frightening creatures. Del Toro has an amazing ability to create fairytale horror creatures. (Del Toro gave a fascinating interview where he talks about being constantly visited by monsters as a child in a lucid dreaming-type state, and he had several encounters with a faun creature that would come out of his armoire.) For example, the tooth fairies in the second Hellboy. Not a fairy you’d want anywhere near your teeth. But the true monster is the young girl’s step father, the Captain. He is a complete psychopath, imposing and violent, and in one scene, tortures members of the anti-Franco rebels, who the young girl befriends. The ending is not happy, and you are left wondering how much of the fantasy aspect is real or not. Del Toro presents many monstrous creatures, but in the end the true monster was the Captain.
I’m a fan of atmospheric horror and cool creatures and monsters, but always felt the truly scary and horrifying stories were those that take our world, things that give us comfort and security, and disturb it, twist it. Stephen King does this well. NPR has a good interview with del Toro and del Toro states in the interview: …in human (monstrous) behavior is when we think (of as) social, tacit agreements that we have of decency or morality or ethics are just transgressed…
What gives me chills are stories of people who are falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned, even some on death row, and the legal system, instead of proving them innocent, often incriminates them more. The falsely accused person serves a prison term and is helpless. As del Toro, stated, it’s the bending of that tacit agreement, that faith we are supposed to have in our justice system, knowing it can fail us. That is truly monstrous.