The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, 2001)

It’s no Pan’s Labyrinth (even though the story, image, and thematic similarities between the two are downright startling…the Spanish Civil War, the first image of a child lying on the floor bleeding, the most moral adult character in each film being brutally murdered as seen in an all-encompassing long shot, kids and the otherworldly winning out over grown-ups who just don’t understand, etc…), and in fact it’s very, very predictable (Michael Bay-like slow-mo explosion with the old man getting thrown back, seriously? and the villainous Jacinto is basically a Snidely Whiplash by the end, despite a late, beautiful moment where he muses over an old photo of his parents and for a moment seems human and even sympathetic…maybe my favorite moment in the entire film). And the ghost is actually pretty lame once del Toro decides to show it in all its glory (which is sooner than I had anticipated)…it had much more power to instill fear when it remained in the shadows, sighing, early in the film, but sadly not often. But damned if that watery basement set isn’t GORGEOUS, and one of the creepier sets I’ve seen, the way it’s lit and photographed, making for a great initial reveal of the ghost, as well as an outstanding climax (one thing’s certain, even if his screenwriting skills are suspect, del Toro’s artistry with the camera and sets and lighting and weirdities can turn even the most flawed screenplay, and what should be a boring Spanish history lesson, into something visually captivating). And the kids collectively give a great performance, even beyond the coolness of them going all Rambo at the end. This could’ve devolved into cliches of the new kid, the bully, the pipsqueak sidekick, etc., but the way they all band together for a common cause by the end is admirable, and one thing about the film that isn’tthat predictable. Started out slow, got much better as it went along, even if the appearance and nature of the ghostly Santi didn’t follow suit. I liked this

7.5/10

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