day. Since so much of our site’s content is lost in other designs,
hampered by ad code messing with the pages, or surrounded by gas and
low on evil, I’m going to start reprinting them for new eyes. You’ll
see classic Smilin’ Jack Ruby, stuff from me when I was relevant, early
Devin, and if there’s a God… some Brian Koukol. So, look for the CHUD
Rerun branding and enjoy. It’s nice revisiting some of this stuff. –
***END OF WARNING***
***WARNING FROM DEVIN***
I don’t remember if this was my first review for CHUD, but it’s certainly one of the first. The thing is pretty cringe-worthy, but weirdly enough I think I have written lamer reviews in 2006. I guess I was trying pretty hard! I will tell you this – rereading this skimpy thing and recently revisiting the film has made me itchy to write something longer. (By the way, this was supposed to run with my Guillermo Del Toro interview last week, but I am dimwitted and lazy)
***END OF WARNING FROM DEVIN***
Reviewed by Devin Faraci
Directed by Guillermo (Cronos, Mimic) del Toro.
Starring Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Frederico Luppi, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Fernando Tielve
I’m not sure what I expected walking into this one. I dug Cronos, but thought Mimic was OK at best. I knew that del Toro was stylish, but the story? A ghost in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War?
First off – the story is the best part of this movie. With some minor adjustments (very minor), you could take the ghost out altogether (or make it more figurative) and you would still have a very good story about coming of age in some seriously screwed up conditions.
Carlos (Tielve) is dropped off at a Communist boys home when his parents are killed on the front in the war. The first thing that he sees is a huge, unexploded bomb in the courtyard. It fell during a bombing raid, was defused, and just sits there. Psst – it’s symbolic.
On that same night, one of the boys at the orpahanage, Santi, disappeared. Rumors abound – he ran away, he was kidnapped for his blood (to be sold to wealthy people with TB), or he was killed. All anyone really knows is, after that night, no one gives Jaime (Garces), the bully, any problems.
The orphanage is run by Carmen (Paredes), whose husband died in the war and left her the task of feeding the young wards. Her partner is Dr Casares (Luppi). The two share an unspoken, unconsummated love.
Then there’s Jacinto, a fiery young man who grew up in the orphanage. Carmen kept him hidden to save him from the ravages of war – now he is the handyman who lusts after the school’s hidden gold.
And finally we have our ghost. del Toro makes an interesting choice – we not only see the murder that turns the young Santi into a ghost before the opening (very creepy) credits, we see his ghost no more than 10 minutes in.
It’s a great ghost, by the way. His corpse has been dumped into a well, and he appears pale and bloated, with blood streaming from his head wound as it would underwater. Nice effect – but dropped on us very early, nullifying what could have been some great scare scenes later.
I don’t think the ghost is foremost in del Toro’s mind, though. The school, which is isolated a day’s walk from the nearest town on a desolate plateau, becomes the center of a brutal struggle that I won’t even begin to spoil for you. Suffice it to say, these kids leave their childhood behind in a baptism of fire. And that’s what the movie is really about. In fact, some of the cruelty inflicted on the children is scarier than any movie ghost could ever be.
del Toro has style to spare. His camera swoops and plays through the action with a kinetic fury. Through CGI the camera zooms alongside beebees shot from slingshots, rocks thrown at boys, weapons thrust into flesh, but the work never feels forced. He also manages to create an incredible sense of place, letting you understand the space the story is happening in, something which not only helps in later action sequences, but also should be part of the basic structure of any haunted house movie.
The performances are mostly great. I was impressed with the kids – after seeing L.I.E. last week, I’m tempted to think there’s a renaissance in child actors. Unfortunately, Noriego as Jacinto left me cold. He’s a pivotal character, but he’s so flatly mean the whole film you wonder why anyone kept him around (other than certain.. ahem.. duties he performs. You’ll see).
At the end of the day, though, this is a great story. Horror buffs looking for a creepy ghost story will be disappointed. While there are scares and there is gore, the movie is less interested in evil from beyond than it is in evil among us.
In Spanish, with subtitles, The Devil’s Backbone is a movie that has depths that I didn’t even begin to get. del Toro is saying things about the Spanish Civil War that went right over my head, being shamefully ignorant of it. The good news is that you don’t need to know history to really enjoy this one. But if you do know history, drop me a line. I’m sure there’s a lot I missed.
8.8 out of 10