The Devil’s Backbone was initially recommended to me by Michael Sanchez. I didn’t know much about it other than it was directed by Guillermo del Toro. It made it’s way onto my screen for my attempt of watching many horror films this month. I ended up really liking this ghost story and realizing a pattern with his ghost stories. The Devil’s Backbone earns the Must See rating.
Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a boy orphaned during the Spanish Civil War, has to go to an ominous boy’s orphanage. He soon finds the school is haunted by a young spirit, which is only one of many mysteries hiding at the school.
Del Toro has a great visual style in all of his films. This one has the least effects in it, but the visuals are often stunning. There is a transition when Carlos first arrives at the school where the camera cranes up and we see Dr. Cesares (Federico Luppi) for the first time. He is staring out the window and then closes it. The camera appears inside the room with Dr. Cesares closing the window and we meet Carmen. It was a great visual tour of the orphanage and an interesting way of introducing the characters. It’s a solid representation of his directorial choices that I see from film to film.
The story of Carlos is compelling
While I thought the acting was exquisite in this film, the young boys of the orphanage impressed me most. Carlos in particular was a character that I found it easy to relate to. He’s already uneasy about his change of lifestyle. He doesn’t know his father is dead, but clearly has his fears. The other boys haze him, which is a standard trope for the fish out of water character. As if this wasn’t hard enough of a transition, he then finds himself interacting with a spirit. However, much like Crimson Peak, this ghost story isn’t exactly about the ghost themselves. Del Toro has a great way of telling a story that involves a ghost, but isn’t necessarily a haunting type of film.
This film won’t scare you like the Conjuring or Lights Out may have. It will be an interesting story presented well visually and acted perfectly. The story is ultimately a small one, but has some powerful themes about greed. I rather enjoyed this film and, while I’m writing this mere minutes after finishing it, find myself liking it more as I reflect on it. I think it is one that I will definitely watch again and likely do some reading about.