El laberinto del fauno, by Guillermo del Toro, written and directed, released 2006, rated R.
A bizarre fairy tale told against the back drop of the end of the Spanish Civil War, 1944. Well, post-end of the Spanish Civil War. Young girl, Ofelia, goes with her mother to live with her step-father, a sadistic Military Captain for Fascist Spain at an outpost house in the hills in the rural country. She has never met her step-father and only comes at her mother's insistence. Mother is pregnant, and the Captain wants the child to be his. Ofelia meets a few nice people, but most of her time is spent with a fearful pallor from the Captain's management. Ofelia finds hope when she is lead by a fairy to a faun who tells her of a past life and a destiny that only she can fulfill.
As the events in the camp unfold and the drama escalates, Ofelia brings herself closer and closer to reaching her desires until the two worlds overlap. Actually, there is a loose parallel in all the events, including how deadly each world is. The Captain is ruthless in establishing order and in eliminating the rebels, and the creatures Ofelia encounter are equally blood thirsty.
Prior to this movie, I had not seen a Guillermo del Toro film, but when I had heard about him it had always been with the associations of Fantasy Visuals. After all, he also directed the Hellboy movies, and Blade II. Incidentally, he'll also be directing The Hobbit. True to the hype, his visuals were seamless. The Captain's actions lead to violence, and the fantasy violence is engrossing. In particular, a face wound leads to many instances for wonder, a lot like Two-Face in the Dark Knight did. On top of the violent images were the scenes from Ofelia's Fairy World, where the creatures are completely intriguing. Not like monster movies where the creatures are withheld from view so our fear of the unknown grows, Guillermo shows us everything and lets us examine it closely, showing his mastery. Giant Frogs, the woody Faun, and the deadly knife, these images feel real.
Honestly, for me the fantasy world was on the back burner for the human drama of the Captain and the rebels, but Ofelia's plight and place was heart breaking, especially, as the tension in the camp grows tighter. All of the characters and actors portray themselves beautifully. I've never hated a villain or hoped for the protagonists so much. A wonderful film, leaves you bitter sweet, but justified.
Rated R for graphic violence, and I don't mean a lot of fighting, and the occasional swear, if subtitle words mean anything to you.