The Devil’s Backbone

Posted by ron On October - 15 - 2010

Cronos, Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army highlights a healthy body of work by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. A master storyteller who mixes bizarre visual language with desperate characters caught in a maelstrom of danger. It’s this fragile emotional sense of loss conveyed by these isolated characters at their most vulnerable moments that gives Del Toro’s films meaning and transcends all language barriers.

Much like its successor Pan’s Labyrinth, the characters were swept up in the middle of the Spanish Civil War in The Devil’s Backbone. A naïve boy named Carlos was given sanctuary in an orphanage haunted by a dark secret. Like Carlos, the audience was isolated from what was going on in the orphanage. What appeared to be an institution with good intentions harbored something evil. A giant defused bomb served as an ominous metaphor that was symbolic of the infidelity, murder, and hidden treasure subplots. More than just a poltergeist, this Spanish film had a lot of rich subtext to its story. It was as much a coming of age story as it was a horror film.

As a brilliant storyteller, Del Toro slowly but surely mixed all the ingredients to a steady boil. At a very young age, Carlos was left in the care of strangers. He was forced to adjust to his new existence. As the new kid on the block, he had to earn his place amongst the other orphans. His interactions with the other characters revealed pieces to the puzzle. What happened to the previous occupant of bed #12? As Carlos delved deeper into the mystery of Santi, it became clear the threat within the Orphanage exceeded the dangers that it was supposed to shelter him from.

The Devil’s Backbone didn’t rely on jump scares but the uncomfortable feeling of being alone and vulnerable. The film was a play on what we don’t understand and what we would rather believe. It didn’t have to rely on the look of the apparition itself because the suspense was generated with care. The horror was in knowing something awful was going to happen but not knowing exactly when. It’s this off balance feeling of terror where the film’s effectiveness was instrumental.

When the story concluded, every character paid the consequences for their involvement as the overlapping storylines drew to a close. No evil was left unpunished and some things cannot be left behind.

In my three liquor grading scale of One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, the Devil’s Backbone rated as a very rich dark beer during the fall as the October nights grow closer towards Halloween.

Cheers,
Ron

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Thoughts on Cinema is dedicated to film reviews. An uncompromising opinion on the intellectual, artistic, and entertainment value to the consumer. With rising ticket prices, we dedicate ourselves to present to you content regarding what you should or should not be viewing. -Ronald H. Pollock Founder and Editor in Chief

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