“…a beautiful story that mixes genres that you would assume could never be mixed…”
Finally! This is more in line with the Guillermo del Toro that I know and love. Weird monsters that aren’t exactly evil? Check. Kids? Check. A story that takes place during the Spanish Civil War? Check. The Devil’s Backbone has it all. When Carlos, a young boy who is recently orphaned, gets dropped off at a boarding school which shelters children from the ongoing war, shit starts to go down when he begins to hear murmurs of a ghost that haunts the campus.
I briefly touched on why The Devil’s Backbone is more in line with the “del Toro style”, but throughout this review I’m going to somewhat elaborate. Guillermo del Toro films have a common theme that monsters aren’t always the bad guys. Sure there are outliers, but a lot of his films deal with characters (specifically children) overcoming their fears and dealing with these monsters, who often times turn out to be not so bad. This is an interesting look at del Toro himself, because he obviously cares about the horror genre and monsters so much that, despite them being completely fictional, he doesn’t want them to get a bad wrap all of the time. Anyway Cronos touched on this a little bit, but The Dvil’s Backbone shows this theme in full effect. One thing that del Toro does to balance these tones (scary and friendly) is to adjust the tone of the film. Sure there are scary parts in The Devil’s Backbone, seeing ‘The One Who Sighs’ standing in the doorway for the first time almost made me shit my pants, but there are also heartfelt and funny parts as well. You learn, along with the main character Carlos, that ‘The One Who Sighs’ has a very tragic backstory, and instead of feeling fear you feel sorrow. You get to laugh at the jokes that the children make to one another, and you get to feel the friendship between them. You also get glued to the edge of your seat at points because del Toro, while wanting to bend the traditional genre norms, doesn’t let you forget that The Devil’s Backbone is a horror film. You feel terrified much like Carlos feels terrified. But also like Carlos, your emotions evolve throughout the film. It is masterful storytelling.
On a more technical side of things, let’s first talk about the performances in the film. The Devil’s Backbone is a film that is told primarily via children. The film takes place in a boarding school, and we see everything through the eyes of the boys who live there. There are some adults (whose performances are great too), but for this review I’m going to talk about the performances of the children. It is hard to get child actors who can actually excel in a role. I’m not going to begin to speculate why children aren’t usually as good at acting as adults, but it’s something I’ve noticed time and time again. That statistic gets skewed however when I see movies like The Devil’s Backbone. Every single child in this movie knocks it out of the park, and the more impressive thing is that these performances were far from two-dimensional. You have Frenando Tielve who plays Carlos, who obviously had to go through a huge range of emotions, but you also have Íñigo Garcés who played the film’s bully, Jaime. Jaime is a bully, sure, but that’s really only at the start of the film. Instead of keeping him as a generic opposing force, del Toro evolved him throughout the course of the film; and with the evolution of the character came the evolution of the performance as well. There is a lot I would like to say about this performance, but I’m afraid that it would spoil parts of the movie. And the same goes for all of the boys in the film. Every single one did such an amazing job, I was constantly impressed with what I was seeing. The Devil’s Backbone also gave us some really stellar visual effects as well. First of all we have to discuss the monster design in this film. Not only was it creepy to look at, but it was also so fascinating. The choice to have the creature appear as if it is underwater all of the time (with the blood floating up from tis head) was brilliant. iIt creates this terrifying, unearthly image, but one that you can’t look away from. There are also some really fucking brutal practical effects (like a certain stabbing that takes place toward the end of the film) that literally made my stomach turn. Of course with every good thing there is a bad, but luckily this ‘bad’ is easily forgotten. One sequence in the film shows a red ribbon floating in the wind, and to be honest it didn’t look great. But on the bright side that is the only thing that didn’t look great in this film. And speaking of looking great, the direction in The Devil’s Backbone was beautiful. I think the setting of the film helped, but the shots were so well executed and some of them were beautiful enough to hang on my wall. And to accompany these beautiful visuals, the score in the film was amazing. Sweeping classical music filled the dead air and made everything feel more beautiful, but also rather sinister. Much like the school itself, the score in The Devil’s Backbone presents itself as something cheerful, but you can tell that something less beautiful lurks just under the surface. I could go on and on about why this movie was great, but I feel that it’s a movie that you should just go and watch.
Overall The Devil’s Backbone is more in-line with the Guillermo del Toro that I know and love. The film features a beautiful story that mixes genres that you would assume could never be mixed, wonderful performances, stunning visual effects, and direction and a score that will keep your emotions right where they should be throughout the film. I really can’t find anything bad to say about The Devil’s Backbone, so instead I will say: go and watch this movie.
I give The Devil’s Backbone an A