The villain, Prince Nuada, releases what seems to be a little green “jumping bean.” What at first appears to be a harmless little seed grows into a giant tentacled moss creature. (We learn it is an elemental, a giver of life and destroyer, a forest god). In typical Del Toro fashion, Hellboy carries a baby up a marquee with his tail and then throws it into the air while loading his gun, which is named Big Baby.
But, in the midst of this light-hearted silliness, he also instills moral ambiguity. Hellboy shoots at the beautiful creature and it slowly shys away, seemingly in pain. Hellboy hesitates, and Prince Nuada questions him, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it? The last of its’ kind, like you and I. If you destroy it, the world will never see it’s like again.”
Torn, Hellboy shoots the elemental, causing it to flower and spread a beautiful moss across the ground. It flowers open, graciously snowing cotton-like leaves down on the surrounding populace. It’s a poignant moment that is meant to put Hellboy in a place where he must choose between the monster world and human world, a line he must constantly walk.
But, more importantly, it pits the audience against itself. From that moment on, there is confusion as to who the audience feels compelled to root for.
That same moral confusion sits with all of Del Toro’s films. Whether it’s the ghost in The Devil’s Backbone, the vampire in Cronos or the Fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro continually causes the audience to question whether the things that go bump in the night are really the thing that we should be afraid of, or is it us?