Director – Guillermo del Toro
Cast – Fernando Tielve, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Marisa Paredes, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has made quite a name for himself due to his amazing use of horror and fantasy in his brilliantly scripted films. He has shown immense diversity, giving us multiple types of horror films. He went from giving us good, yet simple horror films like Cronos to the amazing and critically acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth, as well as it’s predecessor…The Devil’s Backbone. Hell, he even scored well with the comic book adapted films Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army! Guillermo’s brilliant mind and use of amazing cinematography has solidified himself as a force to be reckoned with, and he is only building himself up more and more. Keep an eye out for his next two films…The Hobbit and The Hobbit 2.
The Devil’s Backbone follows a young boy named Carlos, who is sent to an orphanage run by a stern, yet genuine woman and a passionate doctor. The two caretakers are members of Spain’s left-wing Republican party, which has been at civil war with Spain’s powerful right-wing Nationalist party. Before Carlos arrived at the orphanage, a horrible incident happened at the orphanage one night, and a bomb fell from the sky to the center of the orphanage, yet it never exploded. Ever since that night there has been much talk about the orphanage being haunted by a young boy, known as the “one who sighs”. Upon Carlos’s arrival, he begins to be haunted, and somewhat tormented by the ghost, who is making horrible predictions to Carlos about the fate of everyone inside. With a haunting story inside the orphanage, and a very bloody civil war outside of the orphanage, the children are left with nowhere to go, and must work together to face the evil that is all around them.
Director Guillermo del Toro refers to this film as the “sibling” to Pan’s Labyrinth, with this film being the “masculine” brother and Pan’s Labyrinth being the “feminine” sister. This film embodies the look and feel of a masculine film, with very strong use of dialogue, amazing yet purposely “dark” cinematography, as well as very little female characters(it‘s an orphanage for boys), although the female characters used are likable, as well as extremely brave and admirable. This film, just like it’s “sister” film, is highly based on story, with some horror elements thrown in. This story is just plain beautiful, which just exemplifies the irony even more considering that this film consists of ghosts and some very sad death scenes.
The characters in this film were a real joy to watch, especially the old doctor and our main character, Carlos. The doctor’s use of poetry in certain situations provided an amazing sense of hope in very hopeless situations, and really showed how well written this film is. Carlos continues the sense of hope you feel given that he is only a child yet he shows extreme nobility in situations where most people would simply refuse to “take the fall”. I also enjoyed the use of the character Jaime, who starts off as an antagonist to Carlos, yet slowly becomes a protagonist when the story begins to head his direction, and incorporate him into the film. I found that single element to be a genius idea given how it develops during the film, and I applaud Mr. del Toro as his co-writer Antonio Trashorras for it.
Now of course…I’ve HAVE to comment on the “horror” elements of the film right? As you should have guessed from my plot summary…this film is pretty much a ghost story. The only ghost action you see in this film involves a little boy who was killed one night at the orphanage. He is never spoken of, even though everyone knows about him due to the sounds and whispers they hear at night. As the film progresses, you learn the mystery behind the young boy, in an intertwining circle of elements that I found very interesting and somewhat sad due to the nature of the child’s death. The look of the ghost is pretty sweet, as he continues to keep bleeding out from a giant laceration on his head, almost as if he is being tormented forever by his last moments alive. Guillermo del Toro throws out many theories in the film towards figuring out what exactly “ghosts” are…and I found those statements to be very interesting both in what was said, and how they were used in the film.
I really have no knocks against this film, however I will admit that this film does move a little slow at first. I would not necessarily say that the film’s slow pacing is bad due to the fact that you are kept interested throughout the slow scenes thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s amazing storytelling abilities.
Overall, this is a brilliant story oriented film that I highly suggest you check out, especially if you are a fan of it’s “sister” film…Pan’s Labyrinth.
– I ranked this film #17 in my Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade(11-20) post.