The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo Del Toro, 2001, Mexico/Spain)

       The Devil's Backbone forms the centerpiece of unofficial trilogy by director Guillermo del Toro, wedged between his debut feature Cronos (1993) and his critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful Pan's Labyrinth (2006). Del Toro considers it his most personal film, and the first time he was able to make the film he truly wanted to make. While his transition from for-hire director of Mimic and Blade II to Oscar-winning auteur of The Shape of Water is remarkable, The Devil's Backbone is a true gem within his filmography. Deeply symbolic, it occupies a lot of the themes that define his work - childhood, the Gothic, and an exploration of the "Other" - whether that be someone who is deformed or another kind of outsider.

    Like all great Gothic tales, The Devil's Backbone takes place in a single location - an orphanage run by Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. A boy named Carlos, whose father died fighting the nationalists, is dropped off at the orphanage. Meanwhile, there are various tensions between the main figures at the orphanage - owners Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes), as well as the groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) and the teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo). At the same time, there is a mystery surrounding a ghostly figure - Santi, a boy who went missing at the school.

    Del Toro fuses various genres together, including historical drama, Gothic horror, and - in the finale - childhood adventure. The film moves slowly and poetically, letting its various subplots evolve over time until the film's finale. The film is also deeply symbolic, reflecting Spain's national trauma. The film succeeds not only due to its atmosphere, but also the emotional core and deep sadness at the center of the film. Overall, The Devil's Backbone is a modern classic of the Gothic horror genre that deserves to be revisited by horror fans and cinephiles.


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