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Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish fantasy film about a little girl named Ofelia who is forced to move with her pregnant mother to live with her cruel stepfather. She is told by a faun in the labyrinth that she is a princess and must complete certain tasks in order to see the king, her true father. The music, composed by Javier Navarrete, along with the sound effects and minimal dialogue in this scene enhance the audience’s feelings of suspense and terror.
The scene begins with the sound of Ofelia cracking open her book of fairy tales, which magically shows her what tasks she needs to complete. As the image appears on the page, very soft string and piano music plays. A voice over occurs next as Ofelia thinks about the instructions she was given, the first one being,“Use the chalk to trace a door anywhere in your room.” There is a very slight sound advance of the chalk scraping against her wall as she closes the book. A few seconds later we see her and the sound of chalk scraping and squeaking against her walls continues and blends with the soft string music in the background. The next instruction is, “Once the door is open, start the hourglass. Let the fairies guide you.” With this, the chalk outline starts bubbling with a sizzling sound and a door appears. “Don’t eat or drink anything during your stay, and come back before the last grain of sand falls.” Ofelia pushes the door open, which makes a loud, heavy, sound. The music intensifies here to emphasize Ofelia’s wonder. The strings and brass create a darker sound by using haunting minor chords. Ofelia puts down a chair so she can jump through the door into the strange new place. The music subsides. Ofelia turns over the hourglass, and we can hear the sand start slipping through.
As she begins walking through the hallway, a strange sound is in the background that resembles wind or breathing. Here, the audience must use causal listening to interpret this sound since we do not know the source. She takes another look back at the hourglass, and the sound of the sand is sweetened to be very prominent to remind the audience that her time is limited. She enters a room with a large dining table full of food, and the sound of the crackling fire can be heard. She gets to the end of the table, looks up, and jumps, frightened. At the same time, the windy sound in the background makes a sharp sound in order to frighten the audience as well. Before her is a pale, man-creature, whose eyeballs are on the plate before him. She takes the plate and moves it around to inspect it and the eyeballs make a gooey, sticky sound. Ofelia then looks over at the walls which has paintings of the monster killing and eating children. At this time, the faint sound of babies crying can be heard in the background. It’s unclear where this sound is coming from, but we can infer that Ofelia is imagining it.
Next, Ofelia opens up her bag and the fairies chirp and flutter their wings when they’re let out. They bring Ofelia over to the wall where there are three locks, one of which she has a key for. When she pulls out the key and it rings very loudly, which is another example of sweetening. As she tries the locks, we can hear the metal sliding together and Ofelia’s nervous breathing. When she finds the lock that matches her key and unlocks it, the music starts up again with low brass playing long, slow chords. As the door opens and she sticks her hand inside, the music intensifies and crescendos until she pulls out a shiny dagger. There is also sweetening here when Ofelia touches the dagger and it makes a very loud “shing!” noise.
Ofelia turns around to leave. The music here is dissonant, creating a feeling of unease. Ofelia is somehow drawn to the grapes on the table, and the music reflects this with quick crescendo-ing scales as her eyes gaze upon them. The fairies squeak and try to stop her, but Ofelia starts feasting on the grapes, creating the sound of crunching. The music continues to crescendo and become higher- pitched to signal to the audience that something bad is about to happen. It abruptly ends with the sharp, staccato sound of low brass that mimics the sharp bending of the monster’s hands as it comes awake. His nails tap against the wooden table. These sharp, staccato sounds continue as the monster takes a slow, harsh inhale and plops his eyes into holes in his hands. When he looks around, the brass is at its loudest. It remains this loud and creates a suspenseful melody as the fairies try to distract the monster. The timbre of the brass instruments is low and haunting, yet also creates a rushed or panicked feeling by emphasizing the danger Ofelia is in. The next prominent sound effects include the monster biting off the heads of the fairies, which makes a sickening ripping and splattering sound.
Ofelia runs from the monster, and he makes a loud screech and follows after. The music is intense and suspenseful. With the door once again in view, we hear the sand in the hourglass slipping away. The door begins to close, and Ofelia screams, “No! No!” Eventually, she is able to squeakily draw another door with her chalk and push herself out while the monster reaches after her. The music is climactic as she finally gets out, and stops immediately with the shutting of the door behind her.
To summarize, the use of uneasy sound effects, especially the use of sweetening, mixed with intense brass and string music creates the feeling of suspense and fright. All of the music is obviously non-diegetic underscore, while the sound effects are on-screen and diegetic. The music is both ambient and orchestral at times. The times when there is no music also bring about a sense of uneasiness since it emphasizes that Ofelia is all alone and scared.
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