Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam War veteran attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of dissociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death.
In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers.
Guillermo del Toro
It is 1939, the end of three years of bloody civil war in Spain, and General Franco's right-wing Nationalists are poised to defeat the left-wing Republican forces. A ten-year-old boy named Carlos, the son of a fallen Republican war hero, is left by his tutor in an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. The orphanage is run by a curt but considerate headmistress named Carmen and a kindly Professor Casares, both of whom are sympathetic to the doomed Republican cause. Despite their concern for him, and his gradual triumph over the usual schoolhouse bully, Carlos never feels completely comfortable in his new environment. First of all, there was that initial encounter with the orphanage's nasty caretaker, Jacinto, who reacts even more violently when anyone is caught looking around a particular storage room the one with the deep well. Second, and more inexplicable, is the presence of a ghost, one of the former occupants of the orphanage named Santi. Not long after Carlos' arrival, Santi ... Written by
[voice over narration]
What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.
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After seeing the impressive rating on IMDb and being intrigued by its appearance at my local video store, I finally rented this film. I'm glad that I did.
"Blade 2" and "Hellboy" were my only other del Toro film's to date. Obviously, the man has an eye for style and even, occasionally, atmosphere. I was particularly impressed with "Hellboy": not nearly as good as the source material, but the best comic adaptation to film in many years, including the Marvel disasters. "The Devil's Backbone" is well acted and surprisingly effective in style and atmosphere. Not quite a horror movie...but with its creepy moments nonetheless. The script is also quite good: the characters are realistic and well portrayed, and there are a lot of great plot elements (i.e. the defused bomb) that give the story layers on top of layers.
My only complaint is that del Toro makes the mistake that many directors in the horror genre make: showing the monster/creature in too great a definition, and, in this case, far too early in the movie. Many directors should take a page from Ridley Scott's book: "Alien" is so scary because what you don't see of the creature, not because the little we do see of it. Still, del Toro's supernatural character is well-designed and has several haunting appearances.
All in all this was a great film that works as a mystery and as a drama: the writing, direction and performances are that strong. del Toro seems to do his best work while working with his own material, let's hope he does so more in the future.
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