Ghost Of A Chance
♦ Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water comes out in UK cinemas on Valentine’s Day and so Tripwire’s editor-in-chief will be reviewing every film he has made up to this point. Next up is his third film, The Devil’s Backbone, from back in 2001…
The Devil’s Backbone
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Fernando Tielve, Íñigo Garcés, Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Junio Valverde, Irene Visedo
Del Toro wasn’t exactly prolific early on in his career as The Devil’s Backbone, a period horror film set during the Spanish Civil War, was released four years after Mimic. However it was definitely worth the wait.
The Devil’s Backbone, shot in Spanish and a Mexican-Spanish co-production produced by Pedro Almodavar, is the first of his cinematic films that has that true del Toro feeling to it. Cronos possessed some of it as did Mimic but both were hamstrung by his lack of experience. Here we get to see and experience pure, unfiltered Guillermo del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone tells the tale of orphan Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who finds himself in an orphanage during the heat of conflict of the Spanish Civil War. It is a place filled with ghosts and uneasy spirits. Run by Carmen (Marisa Paredes), she is a woman who is physically damaged with a prosthetic foot as well as emotionally so. She has a romance with Dr Casares (Federico Luppi, returning from del Toro’s debut Cronos) but she is also attracted to former orphan Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) and so she is trapped in an uneasy love triangle.
In the courtyard of the orphanage sits an unexploded bomb and it is becomes Carlos’s mission to solve the mystery of the missing boy Santi (Junio Valverde), who has not been seen since the bomb hit the orphanage. Jaime is connected to the boy’s disappearance and Carlos periodically sees the ghost of Santi, unable to rest until his killer is revealed and he gets justice.
There is an elegance and beauty to The Devil’s Backbone, thanks partly to the brilliance of his cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and production designer César Macarrón but just because del Toro uses the setting so brilliantly. The cast is exceptional too with Luppi displaying a little extra range here than he was able to show off in Cronos and Paredes connects with the audience as a tragic figure worthy of our empathy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a del Toro film if children didn’t play a major part and it is the children here who act as its emotional core. Tielve is excellent as is Adrián Lamana as his friend Galvez too. They offer a kind of warmth and hope that the adults here are mostly lacking. It is their jeopardy that creates the tension here. When we first see the ghost of Santi, he unsettles the audience but we come to realise that Jaime is the true monster.However he is exposed in the end and Santi is granted the peace he has been seeking all this time.
The Devil’s Backbone is an exquisite slice of period gothic horror with true heart and soul, a proper cinematic work that showed just what the director was capable of. You can see the likes of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and even some of Whale’s Universal monster movies had a big influence on this film but del Toro transcends his influences. His third film is head and shoulders its two predecessors and it would be his finest work except that he went on to make Pan’s Labyrinth a few years later. A must-watch for aficionados of quality cinema and classic horror.
Here’s Eight Days of del Toro Day One: Cronos
Here’s Eight Days of del Toro Day Two: Mimic too