The Devils Backbone
Release date: September 2, 2001
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Irene Visedo and
José Manuel Lorenzo
The movie is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, The Devils Backbone, written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, is a tale of childhood fears and horrors.
Told from the POV of a twelve year old boy Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who is brought to the orphanage, which is located in the middle of nowhere, and a day and a half walk from the nearest town. Carlos, who has no idea his father is dead, is left by his tutor and has to face the hostilities of his new home alone.
Almost at the beginning of the movie, Carlos sees the ghost of a boy in the kitchen doorway, a ghost who later in the movie calls to him, it seems to want to be able to communicate with him. So Carlos investigates the strange sounds until he realizes what he's discovered and runs away, terrified, back to the safety of his bed.
Carlos is taken care of by Professor Casares and his love interest, Carmen (Marisa Paredes), a woman who is fighting for the cause in her own way, by stashing gold to help finance the army while the children in the orphanage are barely able to survive, getting by on only bread and milk. Yes the characters, even in their misguided ideologies, are sympathetic and human. You might not agree with what their cause is but you can at least kind of understand it.
The school's handyman Jacinth (Eduardo Noriega), who is also an orphan and a former student of the orphanage, hates it and plans to leave with wife Conchita (Irene Visedo), who is the cook of the school. Jacinth knows about the gold their and his motivation for working their is only so he can try and steal it. Yet in spite of his evil intentions, Del Toro has written Jacinth with credible flaws and deep mental problems, and unsettling emotion that make him more than your typical movie antagonist.
The other school orphans are just as convincingly portrayed as well. Jaime (Inigo Garces), who is the bully of the school, who also suprisingly has a soft side. Not the typical schoolyard bully, Jaime later in the film reveals dark secrets that have haunted him.
Del Toro is a director with a pretty good eye for visual beauty. The movie ghost, often disturbing, is also quite beautiful, uniquely handled. The spectral child, floating in the hallway appears to be surrounded by water droplets, and a stream of watery blood flowing from the gash in his head. The ghost's eyes are also very scary looking they have the perfect possessed-looking lenses that reminded me of Linda Blair's in The Exorcist.
If there is a drawback to this movie then it would have to be the rather strangely proofread subtitles. For example, the ghost, called "he who sighs", was often called "he who sights". Not a big deal, but it can be a little distracting/annoying.
But this in no way takes away from the superbly acted, and perfectly directed movie. Given the right exposure, The Devils Backbone can and should become a classic.
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