‘The Devil’s Backbone’ is an incredibly confident and remarkable film, for what is essentially Guillermo del Toro’s first widely-released, original movie. It covers a lot of classic del Toro territory with it’s supernatural, magical story taking place in a very realistic world. This is one that, following a trend I’m noticing a lot with this blog, I really should have seen sooner. I really love every del Toro film I’ve seen, especially Pans Labyrinth. This movie is very similar to Pan’s in many ways; for one being in Spanish, but also anchored around a child protagonist who’s surrounded by supernatural elements in a violent world at war around him. It’s less of a fairy tale than Pan’s Labyrinth, and more about exacting revenge and retribution on the films greedy, violent asshole of an antagonist.
The movie begins with young orphan Carlos being ditched at an orphanage run by Casares and Carmen during the Spanish Civil War. Carmen and Casares are on the side of the Republican Loyalists, and are harboring a large amount of gold for their cause. While Carlos is at first harassed and picked on by the other kids, he eventually wins them over with loyalty, as the orphanage’s groundskeeper Jacinto is abusive and crude to the children. Meanwhile, Carlos starts to see the ghost of a young boy, who he later finds out died at the orphanage under mysterious circumstances. Things escalate in the second act when Jacinto makes a move to take the gold from the orphanage, but the plot takes a shocking and tragic turn that I didn’t see coming. I won’t say anymore for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, because it’s a must see, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it. The ending itself feels just right, even if it is a bit predictable as it nears, but it’s ultimately a satisfying, though bittersweet, conclusion to the tale.
One aspect that I loved so much about Devil’s Backbone is the fantastic writing. The script pulls numerous, seemingly disparate plot elements together in the beginning, with shady characters, a war-time setting, and even the ghost I talked about. It feels slightly uneven in the beginning, but the script pulls them all together beautifully in the end. Every little setup has a great payoff, almost all of them in the last 5-10 minutes of the movie. I’d be lying if I said the first act of the movie was the most engrossing part, but knowing where it all goes in the second and third acts makes it absolutely worthwhile. To backtrack a bit, the second act was also incredibly surprising and different than anything I had expected. You’d expect something like what del Toro does here to be at the very end of a movie, not halfway through.
Aside from those points, the movie is also beautifully shot and scored. I really loved those two things about Pan’s Labyrinth as well, with the ‘fairy tale’ inspired score making a nice dichotomy with the dreamy visuals on-screen. The Devil’s Backbone has a similar feel tonally, with the dark score and cinematography that reminded me more of a Western than anything else. Del Tore always nails these two components in all of his movies, and honestly, just about every other part of the film-making process as well. The guy is a damn legend.
I’m glad I’m getting back into the daily swing of watching a movie after having a busy past few weeks or so, but expect an update every day now. I would also appreciate the hell out of you if you shared these posts or even just tell your friends about Brentwatchesmovies. There will be a Guardians of the Galaxy review up in the next couple days, for those of you as stoked as I am for that movie, so stay tuned and thanks for reading!