Film: The Devil's Backbone

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Film:

The Devil's Backbone

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Sony Pictures

Seething passions, wandering ghosts, and an unexploded bomb fill this beautifully filmed tale of war and suspense. Though The Devil’s Backbone was advertised as a horror movie in the States, it’s really more of a drama that happens to have ghosts in it. During the Spanish Civil War, young Carlos is abandoned at a completely isolated orphanage. The tensions therein have been building for years, exacerbated by the unexploded bomb resting menacingly in the courtyard. Bullies scheme, tempers flare, and a ghost that visits Carlos’s bed seems to be the key to it…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Seething passions, wandering ghosts, and an unexploded bomb fill this beautifully filmed tale of war and suspense. Though The Devil’s Backbone was advertised as a horror movie in the States, it’s really more of a drama that happens to have ghosts in it. During the Spanish Civil War, young Carlos is abandoned at a completely isolated orphanage. The tensions therein have been building for years, exacerbated by the unexploded bomb resting menacingly in the courtyard. Bullies scheme, tempers flare, and a ghost that visits Carlos’s bed seems to be the key to it all. The movie is full of excellent performances, especially by Marisa Paredes as the gruff-but-kind headmistress, Eduardo Noriega as the handyman with secrets to keep, and Federico Luppi as the benevolent professor who likes to keep deformed fetuses in jars. A rich, satisfying drama with some good, spooky fun thrown in. —Ali Davis

As Guillermo Del Toro films go The Devil’s Backbone is a defining moment in his career, breaching the gap between International Art House and mainstream Hollywood success, it being his last film before Blade 2. Based within an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, the film is driven by its characters and, just like his previous films (Cronos and Mimic), it draws on the supernatural to outline and re-define exactly what it is that drives them.

Although Del Toro insists that this is not a film about the Civil War, by trapping and threatening its inhabitants the orphanage inevitably becomes a mirror for the events outside. These four walls become a place of protection for boys who have been orphaned during the war, a place for them to lead a relatively normal existence full of school life, bullying and adventure. Their main source of the latter being Santi, a young ghost who haunts the halls looking for revenge for his recent murder. Yet the pivotal character who evokes real fear in the children is not the spirit, but the greedy, selfish Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a former orphan, whose experiences have left him with deep emotional scars. With a strong cast and even stronger imagery (created by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro) Del Toro whips up a hauntingly effective film about love, life and the afterlife.

On the DVD: entering the extras literally through the keyhole, there are several opportunities to obtain a deeper understanding of this disturbing film. A “Behind the Scenes” featurette includes the cast’s own character profiles and interpretation of the story, as well as Del Toro explaining his thoughts about the film and how he achieved some shots. Two of the sequences—”Aerial Bombardment” and “The Ghost”—can be seen in further technical detail, with film footage and computer animation combined to make a whole scene. A selection of storyboards can also be viewed which run alongside the soundtrack to the scene, with the option to intercut between storyboard and finished film. A theatrical trailer, a picture gallery and written biographies are standard. The film and additional features are in Spanish with English subtitles and menu. With Dolby 5:1 sound and a widescreen picture, the film not only looks and sounds, but also feels fantastically chilling. —Nikki Disney

Barnes and Noble

After proving his mettle with the American genre hits Mimic and Blade 2, director Guillermo del Toro returns to Spanish-language filmmaking with The Devil’s Backbone. An atmospheric ghost story set in a renegade orphanage during the Spanish Civil War (specifically, 1939), the film frightens more through storytelling than via special effects. Following the mysterious disappearance of a resident/student, young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at the orphanage, which is an arid oasis in the war, run with tough love by headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes, All About My Mother) and Professor Casares (Federico Luppi, Cronos), both of whom traffic in gold and moonshine on the side. Amid typical run-ins with the local bullies, Carlos discovers the ulterior motives of Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega, Open Your Eyes), the aggressive young groundskeeper who has his eye on the headmistress’s hidden treasure. Around the premises, Carlos begins to see a ghost child, who repeatedly foretells the explosive results of Jacinto’s greed. The seasoned and impressive adult cast is well balanced by the young neophytes, who offer as much range and sympathy as their elders. Del Toro deals in eerie imagery, the most striking of which is an unexploded bomb dropped in the center of a courtyard; the ghost’s a chiller, too, always appearing to be submerged underwater, even while walking the halls. Equally masterful is del Toro’s handling of the trials of childhood. Rarely has a horror film been as honestly sensitive to growing pains as The Devil’s Backbone. Tony Nigro

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