The Spanish writer/director Guillermo del Toro was born in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1964. After he finished his study at the film school Centro de Investigación y Estudios Cinematográcios, del Toro went on to work as a special effects make-up designer for about ten years, which is an experience that is reflected in many of his later films. (He also founded the special effects company Necropia in the mid-1980s.) The feature debut for the director was Cronos (1993), a film about an ancient artifact that grants immortality to the possessor through vampirism.
One of his early and most critically acclaimed film is The Devil’s Backbone (2001) which tells the story told from the point of view of a child living in an orphanage during the Spanish civil war. It bears similarities to del Toro’s another fantasy-horror film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), such as the historical context and the theme of a child faced with the horrors real and supernatural. For del Toro, there is something inherently political about the horror films, either as a fable that’s supposed to make the audience comply with the morale of the story or as a form of subversive narrative. This parallel of horror as a fable is marked clearly in Pan’s Labyrinth, as Ofelia’s fantasy world grows bigger and bigger, seeping through the fabric of the reality.
Besides his exploration into the macabre, Del toro also directed a number of action films. For some, he might even be better known for his comic book adaptations (Hellboy I, II) or his sci-fi action venture Pacific Rim (2013). Pacific Rim was his most successful film in terms of box office record, which a sequel in the horizon. Without question, his actions features have a different tone than his more somber works, yet he does manage to bring his own distinctive flair to them. In Hellboy, we see the familiar visual motifs and overabundance of special effects-del Toro’s predilection. And even a cursory glance at Pacific Rim will make it evident that the ‘Kaijus’ satisfy del Toro’s enduring interest in monsters, whether in the form of a nightmarish ghoul (remember the pale man from Pan’s Labyrinth?) or a Godzilla-shaped robot-fighting radioactive monstrosity.
The latest feature from the director was Crimson Peak, a gothic period piece starring Tom Hiddleston. A throwback to classic production, it is inspired by the classic horror films such as The Exorcist, The Shining, and The Omen, aiming to focus on the ‘atmospheric horror’. The critics of the film were divided. Some found its gory treatment a bit excessive and failed to find a sense of ingenuity from the work, and some found it to be a commendable film, an homage to the horror genre’s ‘grand classics’ infused with del Toro’s personal style. At least, there is a general consensus on the visual astuteness of the film which is an interesting development from his earlier horror films.
Fascinated by all things fantastical and macabre, del Toro takes the horror genre seriously. The moments that shine in his films are those that combine the macabre, the monstrous, and the poetic. For the rule of the thumb, when watching del Toro’s films -with exception to the action genre- be prepared for more than a modest amount of on-screen blood and a sense of crippling fear encroaching upon you, because that is what he is after.
Written by Avery Jung