Projections - Movie Reviews

The Devil's Backbone

The Devil's Backbone

From Guillermo del Toro (Mimic) comes a taut spectral tale, The Devil's Backbone, which may appeal to the same audience that made The Others a box-office surprise last summer.

This Spanish-language tale has a strong visual palette that the detailed director uses to heighten the emotional and psychological struggles of a young boy against the backdrop of the tumultuousness and brutality of the Spanish Civil War.

Those who wish to be frightened will not be disappointed and should be warned that some scenes are discomforting with blood and gore.

Perhaps the political side of The Devil's Backbone, which interconnects with the supernatural may be too much for some viewers.  Yet, the complexities from del Toro and his co-writers add deeper nuance and texture to a stylish tale and crisp characterizations.

A pre-teen named Carlos, played by Fernando Tielve, is left at the Santa Lucia orphanage (think a Hispanic, eerie Cider House Rules) by someone close to his missing father.

Carmen, acted effortlessly by Marisa Paredes of All About My Mother, is the principal who watches over the boys.  It is evident that most of the orphans are offspring of Leftists who have perished in battle against Fascist troops.  She is the object of desire for Professor Casares, the emotional fulcrum of The Devil's Backbone and done with wistfulness by Federico Luppi.

Del Toro keeps the focus on the orphanage similar to what Alejandro Amenebar did with a stately, expansive Gothic edifice in The Others.  But the deft helmer knows how to generate peril within his isolated setting, as well as from a distance.  From the oddly disturbing opening of an un-detonated, but defused bomb, the horrors of war have a way of ominously permeating a seemingly safe place for the likes of Carlos.

The Devil's Backbone may be a bit unusual at times as the title emerges from details surrounding spina bifida, but del Toro impresses with his originality when it comes to interweaving a political allegory with a tormented boy's life.  The striking imagery always accompanies an absorbing tale which postures phantoms with subtle power as the Spanish Civil War has presence over those sons trapped south of the border.

The Devil's Backbone

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