The Devil's Backbone (2001)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Supernatural Thriller, Haunted House Film, Period Film, Gothic Film  |   Release Date - Nov 21, 2001 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - Argentina , Spain , Mexico   |   MPAA Rating - R
  • AllMovie Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Share on

Review by Jason Buchanan

"What is a ghost?" asks Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro's supremely menacing supernatural tale of greed and sorrow set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Although fear of the unknown strikes a chord deep within the collective psyche, Del Toro shows that these things of a more familiar persuasion may, in fact, be the driving force behind their vengeful motivations. The desolate landscape that surrounds the dilapidated orphanage is the ideal setting for a tale of ghosts both literal and figurative - its crumbling corridors the perfect mix of beautiful melancholy and pregnant menace that underscores a sinister mystery slowly bubbling to the surface, and the vengeful supernatural force from the past that roams the decaying hallways which house children with little past or future. Screen newcomer Fernando Tielve shows great promise as the orphanage's fearful yet brave newcomer Carlos, while Obre los Ojos star Eduardo Noriega takes an effectively chilling turn as caretaker Jacinto - the so-called "prince without a kingdom" who is willing to trade his soul for a well-guarded treasure. Menace and mystery are the crucial factors which compel the viewer and command their attention, simultaneously driving the film forward with an increasing sense of dread and wonder. (Guillermo Navarro)'s stylishly aged lens adds the perfect visual texture through the dark nights, in which the children giggle with nervous fear of "the one who sighs," and the harsh daytime hours, in which they attempt to avoid the wrath of a more tangible ghost. In Navarro's lens, director Del Toro has found the perfect visual compliment to his deliberately brooding and seductive tale. A mysterious relic of war that sits silent in the courtyard of the orphanage is a centrally anchored reminder that, even though considered harmless by those who share its space, adds a layer of unresolved tension beneath the fragile surface of reality. With characters' pasts and sometimes questionable motivations slowly revealed as the viewer is taken deeper into the troubled minds of those who dwell in the isolated kingdom in limbo, Del Toro has crafted a finely tuned and quietly intense fable of the influence of ghosts on the fate of man.