ANDREW COLLINS: FILM OF THE DAY Pan’s Labyrinth★★★★★ 10.40pm-12.55am Horror Channel
The battle for the best foreign language film Oscar in 2007 was won by Germany’s The Lives of Others, an austere drama about the cruelty of East Germany’s secret police in the 1980s, but many felt that Mexico’s Pan’s Labyrinth was robbed. Not me, incidentally, but Pan’s Labyrinth also deserves recognition as an uncommonly bold piece of film-making. A rich, grown-up fantasy about the cruelty of Spain’s Fascist regime in the 1940s from writer/director Guillermo del Toro, it received Oscars for art direction, cinematography and make-up, suggesting, perhaps, mere technical brilliance. Not true. It tells the story of an inquisitive girl (Ivana Baquero) who seeks respite from a wicked stepfather (Sergi Lopez’s brutal Captain Vidal) by exploring a maze, wherein fantastic and terrifying creatures hold sway. Set a number of tasks by a mysterious faun (the marvellously costumed Doug Jones), she must keep this parallel universe secret, while Captain Vidal’s command comes under threat from rebel forces at a woodland stronghold. It’s violent in places, but also thrilling, heart-stopping and quite weird.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford are ridiculously handsome outlaws in this timeless western. William Goldman’s anachronistic, Oscar-winning script is a treat, even though when he first sent it out, only one studio wanted to buy it, and that was with the stipulation that the stars would not flee to South America. It became the top-grossing American film of its year, and went on to win four Oscars.
Taciturn Charles Bronson acts by his mere presence in this powerful bare-knuckle drama set during the Depression. But that’s all he needs. James Coburn takes care of the majority of the script, playing the small-time hustler who takes pugnacious boxer Bronson under his wing.
Iain Softley’s eerie supernatural horror tale stars Kate Hudson as the care nurse whose latest client lives in a ramshackle Louisiana house with a history. John Hurt is the stroke victim who seems to want to say something, and Gena Rowlands plays the loving wife who is probably not saying as much as she knows. The quality cast is topped off by Peter Saargard’s family lawyer, and Softley does well at keeping up the tension of a movie that’s all about the atmosphere.
A downtrodden suburban family is terrorised by a series of predictable shocks in this diverting enough amalgamation of other ghost stories and alien tales. Fair enough, everything’s lined up nicely by director Scott Stewart, and the movie benefits from the presence of Keri Russell as the weary mother and JK Simmons’s refreshing turn as the crazy alien-abduction expert, but the fear factor is only going to grab you if you can’t remember where you originally saw each incident.