Monday, April 14, 2014

Guillermo Del Toro: A True Horror Artist

Guillermo Del Toro is a rare crafter of horror and fantasy that has touched upon multiple forms of media, from cinema to novels, and just this year to television. Well known for his work on the fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, he was also instrumental in the Hellboy movie series, as well as the recent science fiction film Pacific Rim which grossed some $410 million in the box offices worldwide. Quoted as having said his latest film to be his most immodest work and that it was just him “being a big kid,” one can only wonder what his upcoming work will be like, when compared to his earlier career in horror.

The Devil’s Backbone was a Spanish film released in the United States in Fall 2011, set in 1939 Spain, the final year of the Spanish Civil War. An atypical ghost story that involves a mysterious apparition following a new child at an orphanage near the front lines, the story can only be described as hauntingly chilling, viewed through a lens of innocence that main character, a small child, looks upon the world with. Multiple plots slip and slide through this twisted tale, finally all coming to fruition in an artistic, yet still terrifying, end that is wrought with suspense and tension produced over the course of an hour and a half.
Possibly his most popular work would be Pan’s Labyrinth, another tale set in war torn Spain, though this time through the overactive imagination of a young girl, who is now the step daughter to a cold commanding officer of the loyalist forces, who married only to create a son to carry on his legacy. The movie was critically acclaimed for its creative imagery, subtle metaphors and overarching symbolism of innocence slowly giving way to maturity, only to be brutally cut short. The ending carries a different meaning for every viewer I would say, with some believing that the little girl wasn’t imagining the fantastical things going on around her, while others would argue that her dying thoughts are of her mysterious creatures closing in around her. Either way, the story is possibly one of the best I’ve seen within my relatively short lifetime.
As mentioned previously, Guillermo Del Toro, after his two major successes, was offered more opportunities to shine, which he did in resplendent fashion. Hellboy and the sequel were both directed by Toro, who viewed them as a chance to widen his horizons. For Horror, Toro has claimed there to be two sides to this individual coin, "Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment." This quote, taken from Time magazine when they had a piece on him, shows you the emphasis he placed on his first two works; both set in the Spanish Civil War, both with an emphasis on the truly chaotic feel of the supernatural and the unpredictable nature that spirits have. You can also see in his other works (Hellboy, Blade II, Mimic, etc.) his take on the pro-establishment side of horror, with the government watching over the supernatural world in Hellboy, a secret world-government of Vampires in Blade II and a group of government scientists in Mimic who create a species of insect to battle the cockroaches overwhelming New York city.
Why bring the attention to this talented storyteller now? Well, a novel trilogy that he co-wrote with Chuck Hogan starting in 2009, leading into 2011, that featured an apocalyptic world where the virus that creates Vampires is spread throughout the world. The characters, a holocaust survivor and a band of fighters, move through New York to clean out the infestation as it spreads from a downed aircraft in JFK international airport. The second two parts I won’t delve into as this is a series that you would be wise to pick up and read for yourself. I’ve only just finished it, and was contemplating writing a column reviewing the trilogy itself when I decided to work on something that would tie in to a new television show coming out this fall.
In addition to a new season of American Horror Story and fresh chapter in The Walking Dead, we’ll be given the treat of a new series, aptly called The Strain after the first installment of the book trilogy. The pilot was filmed in September of 2013, and the series should be launching on FX in late 2014, probably in time with Halloween.
What should we expect from this series? As it’s on FX and directed and based off of Guillermo Del Toro’s work, it should be a dark gothic horror set with the backdrop of New York. Similar to a Sin City and Batman metropolis’s, it will be gritty and dark, with very complex characters that grow throughout each episode, blossoming into their own dark flower in the garden that is the story being grown around us. In classic Toro style, there will most likely be multiple plot lines to follow throughout the story, with one main plot line that everything stems from and grows back into. Characters will come and go, but always lurk in the darkened fringes of the plot as it unravels. The novels themselves are more than worth the wait to read, and can even change your outlook on horror stories based on how deep into the rabbit hole you go with them.
The best suggestion I have for you, dear readers, is to pay attention to what Guillermo Del Toro does; just like Michael Bay is known for explosions, and Steven Spielberg for touching stories, Del Toro should be known for his dark and gritty tales, interweaving storylines and subtle plotlines, as well as magnificent character development. While it’s worth finding these traits in anyone trying to be creative, to find all three in one man is a complete and utter delight, as he already has plans going well into 2017 to help forge new worlds and terrors to tantalize the very edges of sanity.
In the meantime, dear readers keep your eyes peeled for more twisted tales and always feel free to drop a line about a new book or movie you think I should review or wax philosophically about.

Sweet Dreams 

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