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The Devil's Backbone is a Guillermo de Toro flick set (as several of his movies are) against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. An orphanage out in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by a bunch of boys, the headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), the doctor who loves her (Federico Luppi), the hired man Jacinto, who also "helps" Carmen with her late-night loneliness (Eduardo Noriega), his lover Conchita (Irene Visedo)...and a ghost, which the boys call "the one who sighs."

Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at the orphanage after his father dies in the war. He gets in trouble as the other boys haze him, and he meets the ghost - turns out he's in the dead boy's bunk. The story of the ghost is fairly straightforward, but see, that's what's awesome about this ghost story - it's not just a ghost story.

The place itself is a character. The camera work and the set design are both amazing, and we learn the layout of the place enough that it feels familiar. We learn the people, too; even Jacinto, who's a dick, is a well-realized enough character that we can feel for him a bit, even after he commits cold-blooded murder. The ghost of the young boy and that ghost's story aren't really the focus, they're just one element in a drama involving all of these people and the war itself.

The movie is violent, gory in places and, in typical del Toro style, doesn't pull any punches with regards to which characters die. Del Toro isn't shy about killing kids in his movies (see also: Mimic, which I personally feel is underrated), and when the ghost tells Carlos "Many of you will die," he ain't just whistling Dixie. The right people get their comeuppance and Carlos and many of the boys escape...but they're still in war-torn Spain, they're alone and they've got a hard road ahead of them.

You can see the evolution from this movie if you watch Pan's Labyrinth, which hits a lot of the same notes. We'll get to the Ps eventually.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Die Hard

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January 2013

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