Hello online-world, how are you? I am deeply disconcerted. For many reasons, but partially because one of my eyeballs has decided to go horror-bloodshot for no reason. Right after I watched The Devil's Backbone, which has nothing to do with eyeballs or anything but it is a creepy movie. And I didn't even realize there was something up with my eye til my brother saw me:
So yeah, let's talk about The Devil's Backbone.
So this movie is by one of my favorite director-peoples that isn't Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro. He is dark and twisted and awesome so it was about time I watched this damn movie. And while personally, I think Pan's Labyrinth, the spiritual successor and what he calls "sibling" of this movie, is tighter, more visually interesting and just generally better, this is still pretty damn good.
It starts with a little boy named Carlos, played by Fernando Tielve, being left at an improvised-orphanage during the bloody Spanish Civil War. He doesn't know it, but his father has been killed in the fighting and his tutor is dumping him with the rest of the boys who have become orphaned by the war. It seems like a nice enough place but for three things Carlos notices pretty quickly: 1. There is a bigger boy named Jaime, and he is a bully douche, 2. There is a giant, unexploded bomb jutting out of the ground in the center of the courtyard that no one can move and may or may not be defused and 3. There is a ghost kid, and he wants to talk to Carlos.
Running the orphanage is a bitter, one-legged woman named Carmen (Marisa Paredes) and an old scholar who is desperately in love with her, Dr. Casares (Frederico Luppi). Along with them is a young woman named Conchita and a violent young man named Jacinto, played with frightening ferocity by Eduardo Noriega. As Carlos tries to adjust to life at the orphanage and make friends with Jaime and the other boys, other plots make themselves known: Dr. Casares may be a gentleman, but he has um, "bedroom issues" and Carmen is thusly screwing Jacinto, who is only in it so he can discover where Carmen has hidden gold bars she is hiding for the Leftist rebels in the war. Oh, and there's the ghost kid, him too.
And yes I am showing you the ghost, but it hardly matters because the movie has no qualms about showing him. Less than half an hour in, after a bit of creepiness, they do a full show of little Santi, the ghost boy of the orphanage. Why do they do this? For the excellent reason that Santi is NOT the monster of the movie. No, the supernatural, while still creepy as all hell, is not a malevolent force. No, the true terrors come from the cold, detached depiction of the horrors of war, as well as the eventually unhinged violence that bursts from Jacinto, a regular man with nothing supernatural about him at all. Still, through his callous, murderous nature, the viewer discovers that ghosts are the least of little Carlos and his friends' problems.
So, as the war draws closer to the orphanage and tensions mount, Carlos and the other boys must band together to discover the secret behind Santi's death and stop Jacinto from killing bitches. This is a heavy, slow-simmering movie that takes it's time setting up characters and conflicts and then things come to a head and explode in the second act. It's brutal and depressing but also beautiful to watch as these people all struggle to find meaning to their lives within the walls of the orphanage, surrounded by fear and death. The movie drags a bit in places and there are some scenes that really aren't necessary to the plot but overall, it is a great movie: well acted, well-paced and well-written. The darker, grittier predecessor to Pan's Labyrinth is a meditation on strength and weakness, life and death, and everything trapped between the two. Four catapults out of five.
Finally, before I go, here are some of me and my brother's experiments with light-painting, where you mess with the shutter speed of a camera and wave a bright light around like you have brain damage:
Eventually we got the hang of it:
This is Sugary Cynic, tripping the flashlight fantastic and giving you the evil eye, 'night!
Dr. Casares: (opening lines) "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"