David Speegle’s review published on Letterboxd:
I don’t recall another instance of watching a foreign film for me that was so effortless to follow, and did not feel like I was consciously working to study the captioning to keep up with the story. After my now second viewing, I could easily watch again with no subtitles and I think get just as much enjoyment out of the visual experience. There is so much to uncover that I’m still not sure I’ve scratched the surface of it. I didn’t want to read any analysis or abstract takes until after I viewed it again now, because I wanted to come in with a clean slate, aside from a very basic framework from memory when it was viewed not too long after its initial release.
From a surface level, we have a very engaging class struggle and fight against oppression, along with fantasy elements that keep the film from steering too far towards a grim war movie. Ofelia is the central focus of the narrative, but we have to be aware of the events occurring between the adults to get the full context of the story. Ofelia doesn’t have the maturity to be aware of the real world dangers and conflict to be found just outside of the few rooms she inhabits. She has already experienced a confusing and painful loss, and even more uncertainty and potentially more devastating possibilities loom on the horizon. Despite the gravity of the events around her, she still is able to carry a sense of wonder and curiosity of the world close by, and you see can from the look in her eyes early in the film, she still has hope. She knows that there are things to be afraid of, but at this age, the imaginary fears can be much stronger than the real ones, so we see things through her perspective which we are not sure we can trust with our own eyes. If these less tangible but more primal fears can be conquered, then the world outside of her smaller existence may start to make some sense.
I would say aside from the creature effects which look amazing, there is nothing especially flashy about the world that Del Toro created, and in some way that’s what keeps us all the more engaged throughout Ofelia’s risky adventure. There are conflicting emotions that permeate throughout this entire film, and above all I took away a struggle for survival vs. a search for meaning. I'm interested to look into some theories surrounding the imagery and metaphors present, and interpretations on the unbelievable ending, but too many thoughts rolling around to process much more after just watching.