"The Devil's Backbone"
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras and David
Starring Fernando Tielve and Julio Valverde.
Release Year: 2001
Review Date: 1/9/02
Well, it was going to have to happen
eventually...so, 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 month...so, "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
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.
Comments? Drop me a line at
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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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