Is it a horror movie, a coming of age tale set in an impoverished
Spanish orphanage, or an early 20th century-era war movie? These
questions come to mind while viewing "The Devil's Backbone" (IMDb listing), an
unpredictable and unique little film by director
Guillermo del Toro ("Cronos," "Mimic," and the upcoming "Blade 2"). Once
again del Toro delves into the world of horror and the supernatural,
this time taking his dark storytelling style back to late 1930's Spain.
"The Devil's Backbone" takes place in a remote part of Spain towards the end
of the Spanish Civil War. Carmen (Marisa Paredes),
a Pro-Republican runs a small orphanage filled with young boys, most of whom
lost their parents during the war. With the help of
Dr. Casares (Federico Luppi), a kind-hearted old professor, servant
girl Conchita (Irene Vesedo), and orphanage alumnus Jacinto,
(Eduardo Noriega) the remaining personnel look after the children
during this time of bloodshed and social upheaval.
Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a recently orphaned newcomer, is dropped off at
the orphanage by his father's friend. Immediately upon arrival, he falls
prey to the cruelty of a band of hoodlum boys, led by derelict Jaime (Inigo
Garces). As Carlos adjusts to his surroundings, he learns of the legend of
the 'whisperer', the spirit of an orphan named Santi (Junio Valverde) who
died in the orphanage not too long ago.
Amidst this strange atmosphere of the supernatural and warfare,
there is internal emotional strife breeding amongst the adults. It
is painfully apparent in the old professor's eyes that he has an affection
that surpasses friendly feelings for Carmen. She
appreciates his kindness, yet succumbs to the advances of Jacinto, a
bitter, brooding opportunist who believes that the easy way out of his
poverty is to acquire the gold bars hidden in the kitchen safe.
As the various conflicts steadily reach crisis levels, the ghost of
Santi attempts to contact the reluctant and fearful
Carlos. Santi, the sad, rotting remnant of a boy, seeks nothing more than
revenge against his murderer.
"The Devil's Backbone" is yet another project in which del Toro weaves
a story of people being consumed by their inherent greed and vanity,
within the framework of a horror film. The darkly-lit hallways and
subtle, slow progression of the film builds effective suspense. The
special effects used to render Santi the ghost are eerily gruesome. With
his deathly grey skin and cracked, bloody skull, Santi is the embodiment of
tragedy and despair.
Although it moves a little slowly, the "The Devil's Backbone" contains an
eclectic mixture of movie genres and conflicts which tend to keep things
interesting. When greed takes precedence over compassion and
humanity, tragedy follows. For the remaining orphans, their
survival depends upon their resolve to stick together and fight against
great peril. As the boys face their greatest challenge, the ghost of Santi
lurks in the shadows, awaiting his final justice.
Filmfodder Grade: B+