Saturday, October 11, 2014

Another 31 Days Of Halloween: The Devil's Backbone (2001)


An Artistic Descent Into The Horrific Effects Of War That Has A Lot Of 'Backbone' When It Comes To Scares

            War is Hell. Not only that, but dealing with the aftermath of war can be like the eighth circle of Hell. They even talk about ghosts of war, which is definitely what The Devil's Backbone is about but it demonstrates the "ghosts of war" trapped in a harsh and frozen memory in such a nuanced and hauntingly beautiful way.

        The Devil's Backbone follows the story of a boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who is sent to live in a stranded orphanage after his father died in the Spanish Civil War. While he stays there, he realizes that the orphanage is haunted by the ghost of a boy named Santi (Junio Valverde) and is filled with ominous, dark secrets.

        First off, one thing I thought was interesting was how it isn't really the ghost that is the true villain of the film. It is mainly the humans as well as the effects of the war. Director Guillermo Del Toro once said he wanted the ghost story to be a metaphor for the war and vice versa and it really shows. Since ghosts are essentially a memory trapped in time, Santi is a symbol for the war, which itself is a frozen memory. There is even the use of a bomb buried in the ground as a symbol for the war as well, which almost represents how Santi is trapped in the realm between the living and the dead, like how the bomb is trapped in between the surface and the bottom of the Earth. So, it is very interesting how Del Toro weaves together the war and the ghost story elements in such a unique and rather subtle way.

        Speaking of the ghost, I thought the makeup job they did for the character of Santi was astounding. They didn't make him CG and just had an actor portray him while incorporating CG when necessary, in particular with the blood floating from his head. Santi certainly made for a haunting yet ultimately tragic character. While the film is a demonstration of the horrors of war, make no mistake, this film is terrifying. There were scenes that just had me cringing, thanks to the music and use of simple tactics like water kettles tipping.

       Plus, there are the blue tints on the camera, thanks to the outstanding cinematography work by Guillermo Navarro (Pan's Labyrinth). I also liked the scenes Del Toro and Navarro shot during the day where they use a more yellowish tint to contrast with the blue shot in the night time scenes. I feel that the blue is a representation for Santi and the yellow, and eventually red, during the day represents the hellish war.


         Overall, The Devil's Backbone is a magnificent and artistic ghost story that deals with the harsh horrors of war. The film is shot beautifully, the metaphors are demonstrated in a not too obvious way, and the cringe-inducing atmosphere is just heart-pounding.

          Would I Recommend It?:
         Absolutely. The film may be in Spanish so those of you who hate to read subtitles may be tempted to steer clear, but if that isn't a problem for you, then I highly recommend you check it out. I don't just recommend it for those that love horror films but those that love to study and analyze films in general.

Grade: A+