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The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Starring:
Fernando Tielve/Carlos
Edwardo Noriega/Jacinto
Federico Luppi/Dr. Casares
Marisa Paredes/Carmen
10 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
During the final days of the Civil War in Spain, young Carlos (Tielve) is abandoned in a remote children’s orphanage. Once there, he not only has to deal with being the new kid on the block, but also has to hang tough with a restless ghost which inhabits the establishment. Displays of human evil and spiritual chills ensue as everything is eventually tied together.
THE LOWDOWN
"What is a ghost? An emotion, a terrible moment condemned to repeat itself over and over? An instant of pain perhaps? Something dead which appears at times alive. A sentiment suspended in time... like a blurry photograph... like an insect trapped in amber.”

I didn’t know much about this picture before slapping it in my DVD player. I knew it had been compared to "The Others" and that Guillermo Del Toro (a director that I’m loving more and more after each film) had directed it. That’s pretty much it. Once the end credits rolled, I was dead silent, letting it all soak in. I even told the "chick of the week" lying next to me to stop playing with my zipper until the credits were done and the screen had turned pitch black. Yes…I was moved.

"The Devil’s Backbone" reached deep inside my wretched heart and firmly clenched it for two hours. In intelligent genre fashion, the flick uses horror elements to comment and reinforce the horror to which we can all relate: human horror. Not only does the movie use its little world (the orphanage) to address the impact of war, but all of the characters also have their own personal sad tale to communicate. It really helped that the main players are beyond well developed with even the “baddies”, who are initially portrayed as the bully (Jaime, brilliantly played by Inigo Garces) and the heavy (Edwardo Noriega owning the screen as Jacinto) eventually showcasing different facets to their personality. In the process, they give us reasons (not excuses) for their behavior and more insight into their own pain. Three dimensional characters are always so much more endearing than cut and dry ones.

On the supernatural tip, the film does sport ghostly apparitions, but they’re not the more prominent element here, they’re more like the cherry on top. The people and the situations definitely come first. But the film gave me enough mystery and spiritual shenanigans to please my horror loving soul. One big plus is that the ghost in question has a very peculiar look to him that I won’t give away here. Needless to say, it was a very unique and powerful image. But to be honest, I was way more absorbed by the human drama that was going down than the otherworldly happenings.

On a narrative standpoint, the movie never stopped surprising me by constantly going against well known horror plot conventions and venturing into untapped territory. It was very refreshing to sit through a horror movie that I couldn’t second guess every step of the way. Add to that, a slew of subtle foreboding elements that wind up echoing what takes place further down the road, a poetic aura that I really delved into (loved how “music” was used here), brutally sadness stricken scenes that will pull at your heartstrings, a massive amount of odd elements that reinforce the “off” vibe of the situation (those fetus’ in jars and that damn bomb….brrr) and you get an original film that does have some familiar elements to it but that makes them feel fresh with its heartfelt and left field approach.

Do I have anything negative to say about the picture? Not really. The pace is evenly slow and I can see how less patient viewers might be annoyed by that. It didn’t bother me one bit. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was seeing some chick attempting to put out 12 gasoline canisters that are on fire with a shirt (should’ve run out of there girl, it ain't gonna happen) but that’s a tiny pet peeve. Overall, this film was a rewarding experience on so many levels. It had lots of heart, drama, mystery, originality, scares and a dread-filled atmosphere that Del Toro sure knows how to milk through his astounding visuals. For those of you who say: “Where have all the intelligent and mature horror films gone?” I respond: “Did you check in The Devil’s Backbone’s backyard? No? You should…
GORE
The nasty bits are reinforced by the realistic approach to them. We get lots of bloody wounds, some stabbings, a nasty broken foot and some glass in one’s skin. And there’s also the mangled up ghost. The gore isn’t overdone but it’s very effective when it surfaces.
ACTING
Fernando Tielve (Carlos) gives a credible show as the main protagonist. Edwardo Noriega (Jacinto) gives a layered and engaging performance as the selfish a-hole. I loved to hate him! Federico Luppi (Dr. Casares) tackles his part with subtlety and stillness….it worked! He felt so noble. Marisa Paredes (Carmen) plays her wounded role to a T and her chemistry with Luppi is so on! Irene Visedo (Conchita) takes a relatively small part and makes it gripping. Inigo Garces (Jaime) is very impressive as the bully who eventually lets his guards down to reveal more of himself. WE GOT A ROCK SOLID CAST ON OUR HANDS HERE!
T & A
Us dudes get nada but the senoritas will enjoy Edwardo Noriega (Jacinto) shirtless.
DIRECTING
Guillermo Del Toro is a visual poet. He managed to capture the many moods of the film brilliantly, put on display graceful camera movements, knew when to use slow motion to "up" the impact of a scene and succeeded when it came to injecting nail biting tension. Dare I say flawless direction? I said it.
SOUNDTRACK
The score by Javier Navarette brings so much to the varied images it backs. Spot on!
DVD FEATURES
Distributor: Columbia Tri Star Home Entertainment Release Date: June 25, 2002

IMAGE: The widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1 image is very sharp, perfectly capturing the somber and lighter scenes of the film.

SOUND: We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track that serves the film’s many spooky sounds, the score and they dialogue very well. NOTE: The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

EXTRAS:

Making-of Featurette (13 minutes): This short but compelling “making-of” has the cast and crew come in to talk about the message/symbolism of the film and their respective characters. I thought it was particularly interesting that Del Toro adapted the script to fit each actor’s respective strengths. It reinforced the fact that filmmaking is a team effort. An easy and informative watch.

Storyboard Comparison: This feature allows us two options: to see the storyboards of a scene and to see the storyboards and the scene in question play at the same time. Here are the scenes presented: Opening sequence and credits / A bed for Carlos / One who sighs / Ghost in a keyhole / Jaime and the bomb. Always slick to watch the transition of paper to screen.

Theatrical trailer: We get trailers for The Devil’s Backbone, 13 Ghosts (1960), All About My Mother and Not One Less.

We also get a Director and Cinematographer full length commentary.
BOTTOM LINE
I relished every second of this flick and am looking forward to seeing it again. To me, it’s definitely a genre masterpiece. Guillermo Del Toro should pat himself on the back twice. Not only did he jab us in the face with the exhilarating horror action flick "Blade 2", but here's the uppercut and polar opposite, more emotional approach to the genre. I’m beginning to think that Del Toro might be one of the key players in the future of horror. He’s talented, has a great eye and is very versatile. It’s nice to have him on our side.
BULL'S EYE
The film was shot in Madrid, Spain.

The screenplay was written by: Guillermo Del Toro, Antonio Trashorrasa and David Muñoz.
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