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"The Devil's Backbone"

Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz.
Starring Fernando Tielve and Julio Valverde.
Release Year:  2001
Review Date:  1/9/02 


Well, it was going to have to happen, I finally went back to the movies following the hectic (as you know) final seven days of 2001.  For now, I will have to try and catch as many of the indy and foreign films that might make Oscar lists in about a, "The Devil's Backbone" was one that I definitely wanted to see.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (he's directing this spring's "Blade II"), "The Devil's Backbone" is kind of a throwback horror story of love, revenge...and some ghosts.  Not just inner demons or the kind of ghosts that steal the show in well-layered stories like "The Sixth Sense", but good old fashioned ghosts, the kind that kids talk about around campfires.  In this film, that ghost is a kid named Santi (Julio Valverde)...when the film opens, Santi is lying on the floor bleeding out of a hole in his head, and no one really knows how it happened.  Flash forward to the present, where Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is dropped off at a boys' mission in Spain during World War II, since his parents are dead and only the caretakers of the mission will agree to look after him.

Since Santi died at this very mission, his ghost starts showing up at random times throughout Carlos' stay.  In attempting to understand why he is seeing a ghost, Carlos also helps figure out some of the mysteries behind some of the mission's adult staff, including a doctor, a headmaster (Marisa Paredes, from one of my favorites, Almodovar's "All About My Mother") and the headmaster's lover Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega).

Since del Toro puts the ghost of Santi in front of the audience a lot early on, it creates an atmosphere that is more spooky than scary, so there isn't much horror to the ghost at all.  What is interesting, and what gives this film its R rating, is what happens when the film's participants do not heed the advice of Santi's foreshadowing in violent events that close the film.  The acting of all the leads is great, even if the stereotypical boys at the mission, including Carlos' nemesis Jaime (Inigo Garces), are a bit underdeveloped.  Patience is a virtue with "The Devil's Backbone" but it doesn't disappoint in the end.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09