Sean Burdett’s review published on Letterboxd:
79/100(was a 76/100)
Sometimes, the worlds we create are all we have. For Ofelia, all she sees is violence, pain, and abuse—her mother can’t care for her, her father is long dead, and the man who’s supposed to be her new father couldn’t care less whether or not she lives. So she does the only thing she can: escape. She’s told so often that her books are a waste of time and magic isn’t real, but what else is she supposed to do? All her interests are condemned and she’s left hopeless without them to comfort her.
Fortunately, they’ve become a part of her now—once she reads those stories they never disappear. If she can’t read others’ stories, then she might as well create her own; after all, there’s so much magic around her. A towering stump with a passage underneath, strange insects she’s never seen before, misshapen plants, and a mossy labyrinth leading to a mystical underground space; the pieces all sit right in front of her eyes, all she has to do is reach out and start putting them together.
The pieces start to fall into place, she creates a faun to be her guide, and 3 tasks to be her quest. Why? Well she’s a princess, of course, just look at the crescent moon on her shoulder. A gargantuan toad, more disgusting and slimy than any other you’ve ever seen; she feeds it magical stones to heal the tree it resides in. Soon, though, reality seeps back in. Escape is only temporary and the hurt that’s all around her is unavoidable. Her mother, the person she loves more than any other, is in a world of pain and there’s nothing she can do about it... unless...
Thankfully she’s surrounded by magic, so saves her mother with a hideous root that possesses the power to heal. This knocks her off track, though, and she’s now lost the direction of her story... how can the tasks be set in stone if she’s in a different room entirely? She’s a quick thinker, so she quickly develops the climax—the next task was in this new, ugly room all along! It’s got to be intense, so she breaks the rules, and only escapes from the horrifying monster at the last second.
Her respites grow more sporadic as everything around her intensifies; she doesn’t know what’s going on, but she knows she can’t do anything about it. This knocks her whole story out of wack, so she shuts it down—she broke the rules, she can’t continue! It’s back to reality where her mom is suffering and the only others she enjoys talking to are as well. It’s so hard for her to handle, but she has to, for both her and her mother. As it gets worse and worse, she feels a deeper and deeper need to return to her story because it might be the last thing she’s able to do.
She puts the final pieces in place, she has to save her brother and go back to the labyrinth. She’s not sure what’s going on anymore, but she knows he matters. Suddenly it all clicks: the last task sits in front of her, and all that’s left to do is save the only person who matters. It might be all over, but at least she got to finish her story.
It’s tough to quantify the value of a story. In the scheme of things, it should be slight—there’s so much out there that matters so much more than a silly little story. And yet, we all need stories. Moments of hope and beauty in a fucked up world, strange realities removed from our own that we can escape to for a brief while. It’s not much, but it’s something, and sometimes, that something is everything.