By James Mackney
Guillermo del Toro is a creative and visionary director that is known for making emotional and character driven films. He is able to create worlds of daring depth and draw the audience in with fiendish plots. Del Toro made his name by making emotional horror films and has since branched out with more Hollywood romps such as “Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy”; he is a director whose work should be savoured.
- Pan’s Labyrinth
“Pan’s Labyrinth” is a brilliant fantasy adventure and del Toro’s greatest cinematic achievement, one that encapsulates so much that is good about his work. The film carries the weight of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s fascist regime on its back and at its heart is Ofelia, a young girl who is given tasks to become Queen of a fantasyland. She sets out to complete them because to her anything appears better than the brutal, fascist world of her father. The film is centred on escapism with parallels to classic children’s literature; such as Ofelia dressed like Alice in Wonderland and the use of a faun in a similar way to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Despite dealing with children’s stories this film is clearly one for adults, and the precise direction of the torture scenes allow them to be much more unsettling than anything seen in rent-a-horror films such as Hostel. In summary, a genius director’s finest work.
- Pacific Rim
The idea of going to see a blockbuster monster action movie directed by Guillermo el Toro is enough to get the heart racing. “Pacific Rim” is not a traditional Hollywood blockbuster; it is one that oozes madcap personality and a sense of grandeur that is missing from films such as Transformers. The film is bonkers, lacks any formal logic and is jam-packed with breathtaking set pieces. Set in the not too distant future, “Pacific Rim” finds Earth at war with a race of monsters called the Kaujis. How does Earth respond? Of course, it creates giant humanoid robots to fight them. “Pacific Rim” also stars Idris Elba to boot. The film isn’t the best del Toro creation, and it may not feature this highly on most people’s list, but I genuinely can’t remember enjoying a blockbuster as much as, “Pacific Rim”.
- The Orphanage
Although not directed by del Toro, his role of executive producer allowed him to leave his fingerprints all over “The Orphanage”. The film balances the perfect amount of suspense with an historic backstory and an inventive play on children and their preoccupation with imaginary friends. The film does not play like a traditional horror and its beats have more in common with the thriller genre. The scares are evenly placed and do not resort to one-a-minute jumpscares. The film is layered with detail, brought to life with menacing soundtrack and contains a terrifying plot twist. del Toro’s work as an executive producer helps elevate this film, and it is clear he relished the role.
- The Devil’s Backbone
The Devil’s Backbone is the brother of Pan’s Labyrinth. It focuses on a 12-year-old boy who loses his father in the Spanish Civil War. Following this he is enticed into a haunted orphanage, in which he must uncover long-buried secrets. The Devil’s Backbone received universal acclaim and is arguably del Toro’s most personal and emotional film. The film despairs at the irreversible damage the loss of childhood and parental figures has on its protagonist. The ghostly figures of the Spanish Civil War literally and figuratively populate the orphanage and help create a film that is full of emotion.
“Hellboy” was the first Guillermo del Toro film I had the pleasure of seeing and although I had no idea that the director was most famous for creating emotionally driven horror films, Hellboy left a lasting impression on me. The film was del Toro’s second major studio outing following his “Blade” sequel and with “Hellboy” he handled the bigger budget and higher expectations with a much steadier hand. Ron Pearlman is perfectly cast as the demonic beast that secretly operates as a superhero and delivers an iconic performance. As for del Toro, he manages to give the film a supercharged, bizarre energy that maintains its pace all the way through. Many, many superhero films have since followed Hellboy but back in 2004 they were much more a novelty (Iron Man was still four years away). Del Toro was able to deliver a film that both served its graphic novel origins and the audiences’ hunger for great action sequences, a forgotten gem of the superhero genre.