The ability of children to escape from reality into the fantastical world is an amazing defense mechanism, and is at the center of this magical-realist tale. The mother of Ofelia (Baquero) has remarried, to a Fascist officer (Lopez), who is on a mission to exterminate the rebel forces hiding out in the hills. With the mother (Gil) heavily pregnant and confined to bed, Ofelia is left to her own devices, and discovers a gateway to another realm, where she meets the Faun (Jones), who informs her she is actually a princess of the underworld, but must complete three tasks to prove herself worthy of return. The struggle she faces in doing so builds, as her father's battle against the rebels does too, with both coming to a head during one evening, where everything changes.
To be honest, the real world scenes impressed me more than the fantastic one, which just never provoked... well, very much to be honest. Despite some nice design work, I didn't feel fully drawn into it, in the way a real master story-teller might manage. On the other hand, as a war story, it works very well, with Lopez perfectly evil, brutal beyond belief in one scene that fully justifies the adult rating, and yet possessing a moral compass that renders him almost admirable. In particular, one scene, right at the end, shows why he's the kind of man that inspires loyalty, despite his cruelty; of course, this is then spat right back in his face, and rightly so. Baquero isn't bad in a "I wanna be Natalie Portman when I grow up" kinda way, but I never really forgot she was acting. It's a flaw that, while not irreperable, does weaken the film. Still absolutely got to love the attempt, however.