Guillermo Del Toro’s (Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone) latest tortured dreamscape pits a small girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) against a faun, a disconnected mother, a fascist—literally—stepfather, a host of evil creatures, and the Spanish Revolution. Ofelia and her beautiful, bedridden mother (Ariadna Gil) are locked away in her new dad’s (a loathsome Sergi Lopez) secluded military outpost, which to the left has an ancient maze and, in the hills, is surrounded by freedom fighters whom Papa eagerly scalps and tortures.
When some carnivorous fairies appear and lure the girl away to do the icky bidding of the faun of the underworld (Doug Jones), Ofelia reckons it can’t be worse than watching men get fatally bashed in the head by their own whiskey flasks, and so she pluckily sets about crawling into roach-infested trees and running from child-eating ghouls. Though Ofelia’s smock is swiped from Alice, her faun from Narnia, her magic book from Harry Potter, and her family tree from the Brothers Grimm, Del Toro sets her fairytale apart with its unrelenting gore and misery.
There could be black magic here if Baquero’s leading heroine wasn’t as wooden as the sorcerer’s broomstick; instead, she sets about her chores with all the wonder and spark of an automaton. Meanwhile, Daddy Dearest is taking pliers and knives to the rebels who dare to hope for happiness. What lingers isn’t fantasy, but Del Toro’s gorgeous despair that leaves you rushing home to stick your head not in the magic closet, but in the oven.