El Espinazo del Diablo (literally translated in English as The Devil’s Backbone) is a Spanish film released in 2001, written and directed by a famous Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro who was recently recognized internationally by his latest award-winning drama fantasy film El Laberinto del Fauno as known as Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, the director claimed that The Devil’s Backbone was the first movie of his planned trilogy of war, which followed by Pan’s Labyrinth. The last movie of this trilogy would be released in the future but no information has been revealed yet.
The film sets in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War. A ten-year-old boy named Carlos, whose parents were killed in the war, is taken to an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. As a newcomer, he is teased by another boy and also has a trouble with a furious and troubled school caretaker. As if that wasn’t enough, Carlos seemed to be the only one who felt a presence of a ghost, probably a former schoolboy who mysteriously disappeared the night an unexploded bomb was dropped in the middle of the school ground. The ghost haunted Carlos with a phrase “Many of you will die.” What’s the meaning behind this deadly prediction? As the plot revealed, the audience would question what is more disgusting, a ghost or human-being?
Guillermo del Toro directed his movie with skillful cinematography. You could feel tensions along with creepy atmosphere throughout the film. As the story progresses, we learned the truth of what happened in this well-crafted script through a magnificent story-telling. The movie seems to be a simple ghost story, however, as a matter of fact, there is an anti-war political message lurking beneath the surface of this stylish horror film. In the end, we might have to look back and see what the actual thriller is, a ghost or a war?
All in all, the Devil’s Backbone is an intelligent drama horror film with great cinematography. In fact, Devil’s Backbone is also the name of a poisonous indoor ornamental plant that should be kept away from children. Metaphorically, the movie somehow implies the poisonous side of human-being.
5 Stars out of 5 – recommend to horror and drama movie lovers. Spanish language is not a problem if you could watch the film with English subtitle.