Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Orphaned and alone, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is abandoned by his tutor at a grim gray orphanage, circa 1949. He does not know that his father, a casualty of the Spanish Civil War, is dead, nor does he know the secrets the orphanage holds. Meanwhile, bitter young bully Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) torments him and the spirit of a unforgotten student tries desperately to make contact with him.

   "The Devil's Backbone" is an earlier film by Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth" directer Guillermo del Toro, and is said to be his most personal. The film is bleak and intense and keeps you interested throughout, as well as having strong performances from the cast. That said, it didn't really scare me, but I'm not easily scared.

   Another strength is the development of the characters. Carlos seems initially to be a quiet, sensitive-slash-wimpy youngster, but he is soon revealed to have a big heart and a strong backbone.

   Aspiring cartoonist Jaimie is a bully, but not a typical big stupid one, and his crush on groundskeeper's girlfriend Conchita (Irene Visedo) is actually kinda sweet.

   Last but not least I'll mention Doctor Cesaras (Federico Luppi,) who is considered a meek intellectual but stands strong in the face of tragedy, coping with an unfaithful lover and his careful plans blowing up in his face. These characters don't always act in ways you expect them to, and their unpredictability is both refreshing and invigorating.

   The villain is not immediately apparent, and may surprise you. The conclusion leaves the viewer breathless and waiting to see if good will triumph and justice will be served, or if we're hurdling towards another downer ending.

   This is a horror movie in that we see the horrors of war, of keeping a secret, of seeing the best-laid plans go the waste. We get a truly innovative ghost in a truly innovative ghost story led by characters we care about. And isn't that a rarity in horror? Usually we're just counting the minutes til the bloodbath.

   "The Devil's Backbone" is not a jump-out-of-your-seat, shit-your-pants jump-scare extravaganza, but it has its own subdued charms, as the tension mounts into a beautifully orchestrated finale where Karmic justice finally pays off. It isn't just another dumb horror movie. And that's worth celebrating.



  1. I'm really curious about this film...trying to be patient so I can check out the upcoming Criterion release. Love, love, love me some GDT.

  2. Great review Sarah! You've totally intrigued me.
    I love horror but the non cliche ones are my favorite. I never heard of this before and will staet looking now.

  3. I really like this movie. It's so creepy and unsettling, yet it isn't the typical horror you might expect. You're definitely right about the characters and the story, which make it a lot better than a typical ghost story. Nice job!

  4. Thanks for this review. I've been meaning to watch it in Spanish, but it seems a bit too scary for me! The character development does sound good, however. Perhaps with the boyfriend there to cover me eyes (if required) I'd enjoy it.

    I hope you're well :)

  5. This is a very solid review.

    I will definitely be checking out this flick when I can, though I was really hoping it would be scary enough so that, as you so eloquently put it, I could shit my pants.

    Maybe Pacific Rim will terrify me into ass-blasting bliss. Fingers crossed.

    1. To my disappointment, "Pacific Rim" is getting pretty negative reviews. Maybe Del Toro is trying to hard to go mainstream. Anyway, it's got Idris Elba, a talented actor in it, so it has one thing going for it.

      When it comes to really scary movies, I like to turn to an oldie- "The Shining" by Kubrick. The whole thing is scary, but the lady in the bathtub who starts out hot and becomes grossified in Jack's arms always freaks me out. Eurgh! The ending of Ben Wheatley's odd "Kill List" is pretty scary too.

  6. Really enjoyed this film. Definitely not scary or horror in the conventional sense that we think of horror films now, but a really well told ghost story. Kinda like The Orphanage.


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