Fright Fest Review #22: The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

I've heard of movies bombing, but this is ridiculous!
I’ve heard of movies bombing, but this is ridiculous!

Subgenre:  Foreign / Ghost

Summary:  A young boy sent to an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War soon discovers that it’s haunted.

Review:  With Guillermo del Toro’s recent Crimson Peak being somewhat disappointing, I thought it might do me good to check out one of his older efforts.

The Devil’s Backbone begins with Carlos, a recently orphaned boy, being dropped off at a rural Spanish orphanage.  At first he is singled out as the new kid, but he soon finds friends in the wise Dr. Casares and some of the other boys.  Soon it becomes clear to Carlos that the orphanage houses a ghost, even though the other boys deny it.  Meanwhile, one of the orphanage’s young workers plots to steal a cache of gold hidden in its safe.

Del Toro is known for his ability to create palpable atmosphere, and The Devil’s Backbone is no exception.  The movie renders its Spanish Civil War-era setting with beauty and old-fashioned style, and the period details all ring true.  Though it takes its time to reveal the origins of the haunting, the final act is worth the wait.  And thanks to a talented cast, especially the younger actors, even the slower parts are enjoyable.  The Devil’s Backbone is never out-and-out scary, but it’s not meant to be.

The Verdict:  The Devil’s Backbone uses memorable imagery, smart storytelling, and well-drawn characters to create a unique and evocative ghost story.  I give it seven-and-a-half nonmaterial niños out of ten.

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