The Devil's Backbone

The Devil's Backbone


Reviewed by: Trinity

At the end of the Civil War, Spain is in chaos. A young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is brought to a remote orphanage. In it, the formidable headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), aided by the faithful Dr Cesares (Frederico Luppi), the beautiful Conchita (Irene Visedo) and the moody Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) preserve a small Communist oasis, trying to stop history from tearing down their walls.

At the orphanage two related ghosts haunt them, the menacing hulk of an unexploded bomb in the courtyard and the echoes of "the one who sighs", which ring through the building. Carlos is put into bed number 12, which used to belong to Santi, who disappeared on the night the bomb dropped. Together with Santi's friend, Jaime, Carlos must ensure that the dire warnings of the ghosts do not intrude into the future.

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Director Guillermo del Toro's debut feature, Cronos, was an original variation on the vampire myth. Here, he blends suspenseful horror with historical drama and even adds a dash of humour into the mix. The isolated orphanage provides a myriad of different locations to play with: cavernous, sterile dormitories; rusting, shadowed archways; murky cellars and the sun setting on the Spanish desert.

Del Toro has been brewing this tale for over 15 years, and has brought it to the screen with the aid of some veteran actors. But it is the suspense that really matters and he has got this just right. Like the Korean, Whispering Corridors, the film takes standard ingredients of a good horror movie - the sinister setting, the horrible crime, the ghostly presence, the newcomer - and uses a surprisingly gore-free, old-fashioned way of scaring the audience.

Experienced cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro, provides a rich blend of colour and shade, composer Alberto Iglesias creates all the right cues and the special effects, such as flying shrapnel, hollow legs and wisps of mist, add the finishing touch.

This is horror pared down to provoke terror, although not to a two-dimensional level. Del Toro gifts us the bleak landscape of the best ghost stories.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2001
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Ghosts haunt an isolated orphanage during the last year of the Spanish Civil War.
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Read more The Devil's Backbone reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Marisa Paredes, Frederico Luppi, Eduardo Noreiga, Fernando Tielve, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo.

Year: 2001

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Mexico / Spain


EIFF 2001
Viva 2007

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