Review: The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

the devil's backbone poster

“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
– Cesares

Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage one day throughout the course of the Spanish Civil War run by Dr Cesares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes). He is horrified to learn that he will now need to stay there, and has to soon decide how he is going to fit in. When he is given the bed of a young boy named Santi (Junio Valverde), all the other boys have something to say about it, though Carlos doesn’t understand it. An older boy, Jaime (Inigo Garces), starts off as what appears to be a nemesis, though the boys later slip into a friendship. Carlos later finds out that Santi was murdered, and associates the dead boy with the apparition he is seeing around the orphanage.

the devil's backbone orphans

Being left behind after his father’s death.

Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) is the groundskeeper and his girlfriend, Conchita (Irene Visedo), is a teacher. Jacinto is having an affair with Carmen, who is the object of Carlos’s desire. Cesares and Carmen are hiding large amounts of gold that they use to support the Republican loyalists with. It seems Jacinto has set his sights upon the gold. He, too, was an orphan at the very same orphanage, and expresses an intense hate for the place. The stories of Santi run rampant, too, and Carlos is having difficulty with the visions he is suffering.

the devil's backbone doctor

“The devil’s backbone. Children who should never have been born.” – Cesares

Slowly he lulls himself into some semblance of a life at the orphanage and makes friends, though he wants to know what happened to Santi. It is a sore topic for Jaime, who refuses to talk about it. Carlos is intent on getting to the bottom with it. In the meanwhile, Jacinto is putting the final touches on taking over the gold that Carmen and Cesares have stashed in the building. Soon the young boys are dealing with more than they can handle almost when Jacinto launches his attack on the orphanage, which was not the planned one he was going for.

the devil's backbone santi

“Many of you will die.” – Santi

Will Jacinto find the gold? What of the young boy, Santi? Will Carlos discover the truth as to what happened to the young boy? Who knows more about his death than they are letting on? Will Carlos and the rest of the boys be safe in the orphanage, and what will they do if there is no longer anyone left to care for them? When will anybody understand Santi’s messages?

I rate The Devil’s Backbone an 8/10. The story was not too bad at all, and the kids that were cast to play there characters were actually rather sweet. While this is not the traditional eeeeeeek scary type of horror, it had that element of a drama around the edges, though it never became just that, either. Jacinto was such a twit, and annoyed me no end. He was such a nasty, cruel person, though I don’t think that many people aside the doctor had much warmth or caring going for them. Jaime was an intricate character – he is introduced as a nasty bully, but progresses to actually being a stand-up guy hardened by his circumstances, but forever looking out for the other boys around him. He made it his sole responsibility to be their guardian. The camera work was also not bad at all, and the fact that the entire movie was subtitled didn’t bother me one iota, though I know there are a lot of people out there that will not read subtitles or watch a subtitles movie when it is in another language, which is sad, because this is definitely a movie worth seeing. I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it. There were chilling aspects, there was drama, there was humour, and it is worth checking out.

18 thoughts on “Review: The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

    • Hahahaha, maybe your reader didn’t refresh? It was posted just now ago! Thanks a lot, it really was a good one, and I enjoyed it. Thought it was funny when I found your TCM Cannon featured this movie, too! 😀


  1. Such a disturbing and dark movie, and yet, it somehow ends on a sweet note. Did not expect that one bit, but hey, del Toro is always chock full of surprises. Good review Zoe.


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