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The Devil's Backbone

Guillermo del Toro's 2001 dark fantasy/horror film.

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Orphanage as a Metaphor for a War Film

  • May 19, 2009
  • by
The Devil's Backbone is an enigma. The DVD cover and the marketing make this seem like a horror / slasher film. This is a gory film to be sure, but it is not a slasher film. The film is more of an art house international period piece film. The film is what nightmares are made of, but more for the pain and phsychological damage than blood and gore.

The film starts off with a hideous montage of red flowing around in water and horrible blurry images of a child drowning. It then cuts away to a seemingly innocent story of a young boy on a journey. Sadly that boy ends up being left in an orphanage along with many other boys of various ages. Why this orphanage exists or what its reason for being isn't exactly clear, and that's not terribly important. We're drawn into the story of this young boy, how he copes with the orphanage and being tormented by the other boys. Eventually our young hero starts to see this ghost of a boy.

The backdrop of this film is the Spanish civil war. In many ways the film is a metaphor for the horrible things that happen during a war. Toward the end of the film, there is a montage where the fast forward button might be very useful. I cared enough about these young boys to not want to watch the events just after spilling of the gasoline. Sadly it sort of just keeps going and going.

Technically, the film is decent. The overall color pallette is browns and reds, which reinforces the theme of the film. This is a long film, maybe 10 to 20 minutes too long. In general shots are in focus, the camera is steady, the exposure correct for the mood. The pacing here and there was off a bit to me. Music was non-existant, or did not play a major role. This is a good thing given this subject.

Overall, this is a good film. There are some stomach wrenching moments. I'm not familiar with the historic backdrop as well as I should. I'm certain there are subtilties in the story I've missed. But war stories are war stories. To use an orphanage as the metaphor was an interesting idea. Not a favorite film, but not a bad flim.

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More Devil's Backbone reviews
review by . December 07, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
special edition DVD
     In Guillermo Del Toro’s own admission, “The Devil’s Backbone” is the one film that he has directed that has become his own personal favorite among other horror films such “Mimic” and “Cronos” and comic book inspired films such as “Blade 2” and “Hellboy”. “El Espinazo del Diablo” is a Spanish-made, gothic horror film written by Antonio Trashorras, David Munoz, and Del Toro that takes place during …
review by . October 04, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I didn't remember reading or hearing about "The Devil's Backbone" until I saw "Pan's Labyrinth." If I did see any reviews, I dismissed them since the film was classified as a horror film in the US - what a shame! It has its very scary moments, and it has its violent and gory moments, but this movie is so much more than that. It is a ghost story; it's an historical fiction set against the Spanish Revolution; it has tremendous character development; and, for all of its bleakness, it celebrates the …
review by . May 27, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Acting, special effects, mood      Cons: The story.      The Bottom Line: Too simplistic a tale for the tools used to tell it. Recommended with heavy reservations.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.      The Devil’s Backbone begins when Carlos is brought to an orphanage/boarding school in the middle of nowhere in the Spanish desert. The school is run by a …
review by . July 03, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is a visually elegant, beautifully photographed, seamlessly written and directed tale of ghosts. As the film's narrator explains, ghosts are bad deeds that never go away, are like faded photographs that will always reappear. The setting is a lonely, wastelands school for boys placed there by parents for protection during the Spanish Civil War. What these boys experience and uncover becomes a child's view of how adults react to evil. The performances are universally sensitive …
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Dan lebryk ()
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About this movie


During the Spanish Civil War, newly orphaned Carlos is taken to a school for the children of those who died fighting against fascism. He is given the bed that formerly belonged to Santi, a boy who recently died during an attack in which a bomb dropped, landing in the school's courtyard undetonated, a reminder of impending danger. As the amputee headmistress (Marisa Paredes, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER) and the embittered caretaker, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), engage in a love affair, the headmistress' cuckolded husband, the impotent but benevolent school doctor (Frederico Luppi) sits by passively. Meanwhile, after Santi's ghost repeatedly reveals itself to Carlos, another student spooks Carlos with a dark secret about the boy's death. War surrounds the school, violence infests it from within, and Carlos sets out to avenge the death of Santi. <br> <br> Taking on themes such as the brutality of war and the loss of innocence, Guillermo del Toro's (MIMIC) film skillfully combines elements of war, gothic horror, melo...
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Director: Guillermo del Toro
Genre: Horror
Release Date: 2001
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: June 25, 2002; July 27, 2004
Runtime: 106 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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