Rental Review - The Devil's Backbone

The Devil's Backbone (2001), R, 106 minutes - Guillermo del Toro has long been one of my favorite directors, and this, his third feature film (after 1993's Cronos and 1997's Mimic) had been his only feature length film that I had not seen.  Thanks to my wife adding the recent Criterion Collection blu-ray release to my movie vault as a Christmas gift, I am now able to cross it off of my 'to watch' list.

del Toro has said on a number of occasions that 2006's Pan's Labyrinth was meant to be a companion piece to The Devil's Backbone.  Having now seen both films (Pan's Labyrinth is one of my all-time favorites), not only is it easy to see that was his intention, but that he was also quite successful in his vision.

The Devil's Backbone takes place in 1939 at a remote, struggling, and supposedly haunted orphanage in Spain towards the end of their Civil War.  A young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is left there by the man he calls his 'tutor' (the man served with his father and has watched over him since his passing).  The orphanage is run by a woman named Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and Doctor Casares (Federico Luppi), Republican sympathizers who have a greater involvement in the war than they let on.  Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) is the caretaker of the grounds who also has a not-so-typical relationship with Carmen.  This makes him privy to some information that leads to his snooping around, repeatedly trying to break into the orphanage's safe.  One such attempt is witnessed by two of the orphans - Santi and Jaime (Junio Valverde and Íñigo Garcés respectively) - who were collecting bugs at the time.  Jaime runs off, but Santi is confronted by Jacinto and dies when he is shoved and accidentally cracks his head on a pillar.  Jacinto dumps Santi's body down the well, never to be found.  As one might guess, this leads to the story of the orphanage being haunted.  The Devil's Backbone has a very focused scope, everything takes place either inside the walls of the orphanage or on the road leading from it, but it doesn't feel limited at all.  The film uses Carlos to expose us to this odd setting in a very different world.  We learn bits and pieces about the characters and the orphanage as Carlos does. The relationships between the various characters are deep and the story is intriguing.

del Toro has the amazing ability of taking a seemingly simple scenario and adding layer after layer of story and emotion.  As much as I love his bigger budget projects, the films that come straight from his mind and his heart are the ones that truly show us how much of a storytelling master he is.  His imagination is limitless and the attention to detail that he puts into his films is absolutely unbelievable (which makes the bonus features included with any of his movies a must watch).

Pan's Labyrinth is still my favorite del Toro film, but I'm happy that I was finally able to see The Devil's Backbone.  I would highly recommend it to anyone else who is a fan of del Toro's work.  Even if you're not, its a good example of a well envisioned, well made film.  The Criterion Collection blu-ray release is relatively new and shouldn't be too difficult to track down.


- More of a factoid than a spoiler: comic fans may recognize the cover of the Criterion Collection blu-ray of The Devil's Backbone as being the artwork of Mike Mignola.  As many know, del Toro directed the Hellboy movies.  Hellboy was created by Mignola.  Mignola also contributed the artwork for the Criterion Collection blu-ray of del Toro's first feature length film Cronos.


Popular posts from this blog

Review - Iron Man 3

Collected Comic Review - Green Arrow by Mike Grell

Review - Mama