Let’s start right off by saying that the marketing of this film is extremely misleading. Its poster and trailer proclaim it as being “Presented by Guillermo del Toro,” but del Toro is credited only as the Executive Producer this time. del Toro is an exceptional filmmaker. He was primarily responsible for one of last year’s most indelible films, Pan’s Labyrinth. He knows how to tell a story and how to build the atmosphere around it with every single shot. How much, if any, of this movie is actually his work is unknown. It certainly looks and feels like a del Toro film; perhaps that’s all that really matters. I knew from the opening credits that we were in for a great ride.
What I didn’t realize was just how engrossed I’d become with this movie. It’s the tale of a woman brought up in a well-run orphanage, whose childhood memories are full of positive experiences. Years later the opportunity arises to buy the establishment. She and her husband do so and move there with their young son, Simon, to re-open it for children in need. Their son is fairly typical for an only child, filling the void with a cadre of imaginary friends. Now settled in their new home, Simon’s latest unseen friend is convincing him to take part in some highly disturbing behavior. The movie takes off from there and mesmerizes us all the way through to its wondrous conclusion.
The film is rated “R” almost entirely for sheer violence, but we still risked it and took my nearly 13 year-old. He too was mesmerized by it. As with Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s in Spanish with English subtitles but you won’t care after the first two minutes. The plot starts out slowly, but not excessively so, and continually builds the tension. It never falters by cheating with the story. Nothing presented will leave you feeling let down later. It shows once again that a well-crafted story doesn’t need incredible special effects or gimmicks.
Is it a horror film? Not really. That’s not to say it won’t scare the pants off you. I was on the edge of my seat several times. It also packs a couple of jarring scenes that serve to remind us of its power to frighten us at will. Horror fans would have been happy with just that, but this is a fairy tale of classic proportions. It’s so much deeper than the cheap thrill of a quick payoff.
By the end of it I was completely moved to tears — of pure joy and amazement over the beautiful telling of a tremendous story. Bravo!