Student Critical Review of the Horror Film “Pan’s Labyrinth”: Rethinking the Genre

One of the assignments that students may receive at college is to write a critical review of a well-known horror film. A common reason for watching horror movies is to experience a contradictory range of emotions and Pan’s Labyrinth certainly delivers on this. It juxtaposes two worlds – a fantasy world and the very real world of war. Here are some tips that will help students to write a critical review of Pan’s Labyrinth showing how it rethinks the horror genre.

The setting

After the Spanish civil war, bands of anti-Franco fighters in Spain are hiding in the forest and a troop of Franco’s soldiers go to hunt down the rebels. They are led by Captain Vidal, a sadist, who commandeers an old mill as his headquarters.

He is accompanied by his pregnant wife and stepdaughter, Ofelia who is the 11-year-old heroine of the movie. She arrives at the creaky old mill situated in the secluded forest and after her first night, she is led to a dark and scary labyrinth next to the mill, where she meets a mesmerizingly creepy faun.

The characters

Captain Vidal is a terrifying and inhuman sadist in the guise of a military man and the true monster in the movie. His violence is stark and frequent, with little reason behind it. Ofelia is his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage and she hates her stepfather.

She sees a fantasy world in her imagination and it’s not long into the movie before we see evidence of her vivid imagination when she tells her unborn brother a macabre bedtime story. You’re never quite sure whether to take Ofelia’s experiences literally or to see them as her imagination providing her with escape from her current situation.

The visual effects

Pan’s Labyrinth is a visually stunning movie. It has some of the most disturbing creatures ever seen on screen, especially the Pale Man, whose skin hangs in folds. He has removable eyeballs he inserts into sockets in the palms of his hands.

A strange creature that looks like a praying mantis becomes a small vibrating man who leads Ofelia into the labyrinth, where she first encounters a faun. The faun’s lair is organically baroque and quite unlike anything seen in other movies. A giant frog regurgitates its whole body and leaves its skin behind to give up a key in its stomach.

Read essays about horror movies

Reading essays about horror movies can help students understand more about the genre. At, they can find free essays about horror movies, including ones about films like Pan’s Labyrinth. The director of a horror film usually includes special effects, plot twists and characters that provide great material for students to give a captivating critical review. Essay examples can inspire them and help them to understand more about what’s required when writing a critical movie review.

The director

Guillermo del Toro (born 1964) is a visually oriented director who made six features before making Pan’s Labyrinth. In the movie he invents creatures from his own visions and despite the child protagonist and the fairytale themes, the horror of the movie is undeniable. He manages to construct the most terrifying movie that will live in your head and haunt your dreams.

Some people may describe the movie as a dark fantasy and although it may not fit the traditional view of a horror movie, there’s no denying its horrifying effect. When we think about how movies impact youth, it is interesting to think about the effect on them of the horror movies they often love to watch.

The techniques

Del Toro uses techniques that make you feel as though the two worlds live at different edges of the same time frame. The way he does this is by moving between scenes with a foreground of a wall, tree or dark area that wipes out the military in favor of the labyrinth and vice versa.

This means the movie weaves seamlessly in and out of reality and fantasy and the coexistence of these two worlds is one of the most terrifying elements of the movie because Ofelia faces dangers in both worlds.


One of the reasons Pan’s Labyrinth is terrifying is that it connects viewers to the fears they had as a child – a fear of the dark and of monsters. Another reason is because it brings together two incompatible worlds but the dangers in one world are also in the other and there seems to be no escape. The fantasy and the reality both make viewers look horror straight in the eye.

Author’s Bio:

James Collins works as a content writer for a tech startup and his work there is to prepare marketing collateral, technical documents and whitepapers. Besides his company work, he helps young students write their college assignments and score better in the class. His free time is spent watching crime web series, reading thriller novels and playing tennis.


  • Carl Fisher

    Owner/Administrator/Editor/Writer/Interviewer/YouTuber - you name it, I do it. I love gaming, horror movies, and all forms of heavy metal and rock. I'm also a Discworld super-fan and love talking all things Terry Pratchett. Do you wanna party? It's party time!