Good day, friends! After fulfilling a resolution of my own (read that here) and sharing some very depressing news yesterday (R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman), I’m here today with another excellent guest blogger who has his own addition to Resolutions 2014. Louie of Thy Critic Man, an awesome blog that reviews movies, TV shows, and video games, is here to offer up his opinion on one of my favorite del Toro films. Here’s his take on The Devil’s Backbone!
FEATURING: Fernando Tielve, Íñigo Garcés, Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Junio Valverde & Irene Visedo
DIRECTING VISION: Guillermo del Toro
SCREENWRITER: Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras & David Munoz
When you think of horror, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it five young teens going to a cottage in the woods for the weekend, ready for booze, drugs, and sex, before dying in an obvious order at the hands of a stalker? Perhaps it revolves around a killer offing cliche ridden young people at a school prom?
If that is the first thing that comes to mind, then quite frankly, you have been introduced to the unfortunate side of the genre. The interpretation you have is not accurate of the genre as a whole. Skeletal character development, featured heavily in those sort of films, is not representative of horror in general. The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is solid proof of this.
Known as one of the best horror films to come out of the 2000’s, and receiving a lot of love from critics, The Devil’s Backbone is a ghost story that deserves its praise. My first viewing was recent, and I could honesty say that it stands the test of time, and can still compete with current cinema horror films, such as Devil’s Due. Not only compete, but is literally superior in terms of scares, character development, atmosphere and plot.
The story takes place at a Santa Lucia orphanage, where children of the republican militia are sheltered. It is owned by Carmen (Paredes), who is the administer and teacher of the orphanage. Dr. Casares (Luppi) takes care of the children, and is the orphanage doctor. A man named Jacinto (Noriega) also lives on the grounds, with his wife Conchita (Visedo). He is the caretaker.
When young Carlos (Tieve) is dropped off, and abandoned by his parents, the orphanage takes him in, despite not having much room left. He is given a bed used formerly by another child, who had disappeared. Fellow orphan Jaime (Garces) does not take well to the newcomer, and starts bulling him instantly. To make matters worse, Carlos starts seeing a ghost of a young boy.
The backdrop of this film is the Spanish Civil War, and in the middle of the orphanage grounds lies a super-sized bomb that failed to explode, serving as an reminder. The Devil’s Backbone is theme heavy, expressing just how unique it in is, in comparison to your average horror flick.
Guillermo del Toro put passion into this piece of work, basing it off of real life experiences, and making it personal to himself. Worth reading up on if you get the chance, as digging into it myself will risks providing spoiler. This is a film that can spark an essay in terms of theme and depth, and that is truly remarkable in regards to it being horror based.
I will point out that the orphanage in the middle of nowhere in the heat of war, reflecting a feeling of abandonment. Abandoned children, as well an abandoned country, separated from the rest of Europe, while in the middle of fascism.
The main protagonist, Carlos, acts as an force of innocence, as he seeks and tries to help the ghost, as opposed to challenge it. While still being in fear of course, as the ghost isn’t nearly as friendly or easy going.
The ghost is well done, and the special effects hold up even to this current day. I’ve seen far worse in B movies, or even in cinema. In fact, he is detailed in genius ways that will start to make sense, as the film progresses.
The acting is also a strong point, despite it featuring many child actors who I doubt had much experience beforehand. The older actors were impressive as well, resulting in a very strong cast overall. Javier Naverrete was a master behind the scenes musically, adding to the successful atmosphere. Along with the fantastic, isolated setting, and the dark, it helps set the perfect mood for suspense before a scare.
Guillermo Navarro excels on the cinematography front.
Character development is in-depth and expands past the central character into the doctor, caretaker, bully, and even a few of the other children to a lesser extent. It is jam-packed with plot twists, turns and surprises that will keep your emotional connections to the characters growing stronger as the film progresses.
I should mention that this is a slow burner in terms of pacing. The ghost does makes appearances near the start, and even in broad daylight when Carlos first arrives, but a lot of time is spent on the boy making friends or getting bullied. The older characters are kept busy with a love triangle and an affair.
Have no fear, none of this interferes with the chilling, creepy experience that The Devil’s Backbone provides viewers with, and benefits in the long run of giving our characters personality. Each have flaws, and heroic or villainous attributes preventing possible one-dimensional characters.
The predictable nature of various horror films is ignored here. Scenes would take place, where people meet their death way earlier than anticipated, if expected at all.
Endings are usually the part of a horror film that can either raise an opinion, or drastically drop or change it. Even in this challenging category, it succeeds with something open-ended, yet with a glimmer of hope. No stupidity, or nonsense that will throw you off, and leave a sour taste in your mouth.
That is not to say you will be walking away with a smile on your face. The story telling is so successful that it grips you into the plot, and makes you care. Thus when bad things do happen, it is likely to leave you sympathetic. I am not sure if it is enough to invoke tears, but I would not rule that out as a possibility.
From early on, a sense of dread is translated to the viewers in very clever ways. You know something horrifying is building up, and will eventually raise hell in the orphanage. Fortunately, it delivers, and in a way that you may have not foreseen.
I can proudly call The Devil’s Backbone one of my favorite ghost related horror films of all time. If you love the genre, and have yet to see this, do yourself a favor. A lot of disappointment exists in the horror genre, therefore when a gem, or rarity, such as this comes along, we can rejoice and confidently preach about the greats provided from our beloved genre to the horror naysayers.
Superpower Film Scale: 4.5/5
1: Villainous Waste
2: Careless Bystander
3: Hero unaware of powers
4. On the verge of greatness
5. Heroic film
Standout acting heroes: Fernando Tielve
Thanks so much, Louie, for a great review! Love this film. Just a reminder: the deadline is THIS WEDNESDAY if you’d still like to send something to me for this series. I hate to end it, but I simply must! Hope your week is off to a good start so far, peeps. 🙂