Hey kiddies! How about a story hellbent on despair, childhood terrors, resistance and tenacity? So grab your crucifix, say 30 Hail Marys and be humble. This is The Devil’s Backbone.
Spoilers is the devil!!!
Set in the background of the Spanish Civil War, this film is told through the eyes of a twelve year old boy Carlos (Fernando Tielve of The Shanghai Spell, Goya’s Ghosts and Pan’s Labyrinth) has been left at this enormous orphanage a day’s walk from any village in Spain. His father is quite dead but Carlos is blissfully unaware of this as his mentor drops him on in his strange environment leaving him to be the new kid in a terrifying new place. No sooner the film has opened up, Carlos sees a translucent boy in the kitchen that is in fact, yes a ghost. As the ghost turns to him Carlos does what any twelve year old does. Ran scared, hopped into bed and hid under the covers. Carlos discovers later on a name of Santi (Junio Valverde of Hidden Hands, Vida y color, Shiver and Tierra de lobos) carved into the locker. Carlos and several other kids are watched over by Dr. Casares (Reoccuring del Toro actor Federico Luppi of Cronos, Martin and Pan’s Labyrinth) and the Headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes of Life is Beautiful, All About My Mother and The Skin I Live In), who is also fighting for the cause using a series of gold ingots to pay for food and arms.
Most of these characters are filled with good intentions but as we all know what that road paves. The school’s handyman Jacinth (Eduardo Noriega of Tesis, Open Your Eyes and The Method) knows of the gold and plans to steal it and run off with his fiancée Conchita (Irene Visedo of Cuentame, Los pasos perdidos and Cascabel) to make a better life for their selves in this war torn time. The beauty of del Toro’s writing is while Jacinth has some deep psychological issues, serious flaws and in general comes off as a thug at first glance, we are privy to see into his soul and love for his woman that separates himself for the atypical bad guy of film. The ghost child’s chalky skin and white contacts will send a shiver down your spine. You will feel remorse for the loss of his life but will be innerved by his presence.
The terror and beauty of this movie is amalgamated into one. The cinematography is phenomenal and really tells a horrendous tale from different points of view with subtly. There were times in this film you could feel an influence of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist had. The story established a tale of malice and torment all the while showing hope and optimism in the background. Easily, this is a time-period film worth viewing and having on your shelf. So chuck that copy of Caligula you shamefully bought, sit back and taking in this movie for its awesome brilliance and disturbing beauty.