This movie starts off well, and it's obviously very well-filmed. The imagery of the Spanish countryside in the beginning is striking and magical. The journey of Ofelia and her mother to the mill is interesting. The dialogue and acting seems solid. But soon the graphic violence of Captain Vidal takes precedence over any other element of the movie. At first this violence filled me with hatred towards Vidal alone, which was good, and made me appreciate the effectiveness of the direction to inspire these feelings, but then the graphic violence continued over and over, scene after scene, apparently supposed to build your anger and suspense, but the thing is that you already hated Vidal to the utmost at the beginning; the audience gets that Vidal is an evil monster from his first act of cruelty, when he has an innocent teenage boy grotesquely beaten to death in front of his father, and then has his father shot. But this film continues to shove so much torture down the audience's throat that it made my disgust spill over to the writer, the director and everyone involved in the concept of this movie. It was utterly pointless to rehash the horrific acts over and over, and did absolutely nothing for the film.
In defense of this movie, some people have said that fairy tales are supposed to be dark. Of course they are. But this was not merely a "dark fairy tale." It ceased to be a dark fairy tale somewhere around a quarter of the way through and turned into a sadistic torture film. If there had been only a couple of scenes of it, that could have been good, but the scenes of graphic horror far outweighed the fantastical ones (which I might add were not very fantastical to begin with, but more filled with a brooding anxiety, while the satyr Faun was simply creepy.. not giving the audience a good antidote/contrast to the darkness of the real world). In this day and age, many people seem to think abundant violence in movies can be complex and intelligent, which is a travesty. You don't need a horde of torture scenes for a complex movie. Quite the opposite. They could have filmed the expressions and the reactions of the characters, rather than all of the graphic horror acts themselves, and that would have been much deeper and complex.
I also have to say that there were a lot of weak characters in this story, like Ofelia's mother, Carmen. She was a weak mother, and that was such a shame to see. In many fairy tales, the mother is either dead or a nonentity, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to portray a strong mother for a change. Nope. She seems purposely oblivious to her husband's brutality at times, scared at others, and overall too weak emotionally and mentally to protect herself, her daughter or her coming son. In fact, Ofelia and the maidservant Mercedes are the only strong and admirable female characters, but Ofelia is only a girl.
The ending does not compensate for the disturbing flaws of this movie. It's not satisfying at all, and you don't feel like Vidal gets his due, or that Ofelia truly triumphs after she tried so hard to fight. And after all of the darkness of the movie, you really need that feeling of triumph and purpose, but you don't get it. Overall, there was very little to appreciate and nothing to learn from this movie. It was not only a disappointment, but a distasteful experience.