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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Devil's Backbone': Guillermo del Toro's Darkly Atmospheric Neo-Gothic Ghost Story

Movie poster for the Mexican film The Devil's Backbone from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro

"The Devil's Backbone" ("El Espinazo del Diablo") (2001) is a darkly atmospheric ghost story set in Spain in 1931, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. The storyline follows 10-year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he arrives to a rural school sheltering orphans who have lost their parents in the war against Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces.

Young Carlos is welcomed by the school's proprietors Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes), who support the Republican forces against Franco and maintain a hidden cache of gold reserves that support their military campaign. Carlos strikes up friendship with a bullish youth named Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) while experiencing haunting glimpses of a missing boy named Santi (Junio Valverde)—premonitions that lead him down a serpentine path of discovery and into direct confrontation with nefarious groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega).

Co-written and directed by celebrated Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth", "The Shape of Water"), "The Devil's Backbone" is a unique and involving tale of stark apprehension. del Toro brings 1930's-era Spain to life with a deft touch, delivering a darkly gothic rendering of life-during-wartime undercut with supremely atmospheric touches and a narrative crafted as potent political allegory. An early entry in his remarkable cinematic catalogue, it's a weighty and absorbing escapade—and a harbinger of wonderful things to come.


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