1944. Spain is ruled by the fascit monarch Franco and there are guerilla groups fighting him in different parts. Ofelia, a 10 year old girl, is moving to the country side with her pregnant mother Carmen, to meet her new step father, Captain Vidal who is fighting the gueriall forces in the hills. Captain Vidal is the ideal follower for Franco that he cares not for Carmen or Ofelia. All he wants is a son. Apart from that he is a monster and will go to any extent to fight the guerrillas. He has a house keeper, Mercedes, who is actually supporting the guerriala's and have her own brother and lover in the group. A doctor at the camp also is supporting Mercedes.
Enroute their journey, Ofelia sees an old stone carving and a dragon fly which comes out of the stone is following her. Ofelia is a girl who is immersed in fairy tale stories and she believes the fly is a fairy. On arrival at Vidal's quarters, Ofelia is lead to a labyrinth by the fly. Here she meets a faun, an ancient strange looking creature, who informs her she was a princess who has lost herself in the human world. Her parents, the King and Queen, have ever since been looking for her and this labyrinth is the last portal they had built in search of her. The faun is sure Ofelia is the princess but wants her to complete a test before she can be taken to her parents, in the fairy world. There are three tests, she has to complete before the full moon, as detailed in a book which he gives her and this has to be a secret too.
Ofelia completes the first two tasks, then she finds that her mother is in a dangerous situation. Faun is angry with her but offers her some magic help to cure her mother. Vidal's doctor is surprised by the rate of recovery, but Vidal is only concerned about the safety of his son. Even the doctor wonders how he can be so sure that it is a boy.
Mercedes, who is friendly with Ofelia, in the mean time continues her assistance for the Guerrilas. Vidal does have some doubts on her. There is an encounter between the army and the Guerrilas and one of them is taken prisoner and Vidal tortures him. The doctor injects poison to this prisoner and when Vidal realises this, he kills the doctor too. Carmen gives birth to a boy and then dies. Mercedes and Ofelia tries to escape but falls directly into the trap of Vidal. He tortures Mercedes well, but she attacks him back and escapes to the guerriala's who arrive at the right time.
The third task of Ofelia is to bring her baby brother to the labyrinth. She manages to bring the child, Vidal does follow her, but when she realise that the Faun wants some blood from an innocent to make her back into a princess, she refuses to give the baby. Vidal, who cannot see the Faun, takes the baby from Ofelia and shoots Ofelia, who falls dead. Her own blood has filled the pit where the Faun wanted the innocent blood to be spilled.
Vidal gets out of the labyrinth, with the baby, and finds the guerrilas and Mercedes waiting for him. He is sure of his death and gives the baby to Mercedes and asks her to inform the baby about his time of death. Mercedes replies never, and the moment when he realise that his son will be bought up as a guerrilla, he is shot dead. Mercedes fast approach Ofelia, but she is dead.
But we can see Ofelia, dressed as a princess in the fairy world, where the Faun tells her she passed the third test by giving her own blood and her mother asks her to be seated near her father.
Normally I dont like movies in which Computer or visual effects, however brilliant it may be by itself, plays a major part. In El Laberinto.. there are these effects, but still I have to say it is a very good movie. The movie has two streams, one of brutal reality in which we are horrified by the cruelty of Captain Vidal and will wish for his end and the other which is the fanatsy world of Ofelia. The success of the movie is in bringing together both these world together so nicely. Two contrasting worlds, the innocent fairy world as dreamt by a 10 year old girl and the brutal world of a Captain who is a staunch follower of a monarch, but we tend to forget about the other world when we are in one of these worlds. Mercedes and the Captain are two strong characters that we are immersed into their battle. Ofelia is so innocent that we want her to succeed. I am not sure what the director really meant at the end, if the fairy world was for real or if it was just her own dreamy world. But the narrator does end the story saying Ofelia lived her rest as a princess, seen by only those who look for her.
The performance of Sergi Lopez as Captain Vidal is definitely a major plus in this movie. He has put more than cent percent into this role, that even his subtle body movements are brilliant. An excellent villain. Ofelia and Mercedes too have been really good.
There are special effects and animatronics, just enough for the fairy world only, and they do not go over board any time. In a big way, this is a director's movie, I would say. He has been brilliant, if not, this movie would have ended as quite ordinary. Some of the scenes like the one where Mercedes attacks Vidal and later when she is saved by the guerrilla's, the torture scenes, Ofelia's first meeting with the Faun, all these are brilliantly shot.
Del Toro, when asked about his idea on the climax said - "The tyrant's reign ends with his death, but the martyr's reign starts with his death. I think that is the essence of the movie, its about living forever by choosing how you die".