Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Set in Spain as Franco prepares to install his fascist regime in 1939, Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone features a haunted school for orphaned boys. Young Carlos is the son of a fallen Republican fighter and is left at the school by his tutor. Immediately there is conflict with a bully and a savage caretaker named Jacinto. There is also a confrontation with a mysterious spirit called "the one who sighs." In the courtyard at the school is an unexploded bomb. Del Toro cleverly uses this as a visual symbol, as the opening and closing narration of the film asks the question "What is a ghost?" Like unexploded ordinance, a ghost is arrested between its purpose and dissolution, an unsatiated and dangerous emblem.

The haunting and its resolution are cleverly achieved, and the film works on other levels as well, with a conspiracy to rob the school of its gold, the support by the school of rebels in the hills, and the sometimes nasty struggles amongst the boys rounding out the storyline. There's a one-legged woman running the school, a hot young teacher involved with the caretaker, and a kindly old doctor who spouts poetry to boot. What more can you ask?

Part Ringu, part Lord of the Flies, and entirely delicious.

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