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The Devils Backbone  

Nerve-tingling whispers in the dark. Eerie apparitions amongst the shadows. An unexploded bomb in the middle of the square that constantly reminds everybody of their borrowed time from death. Such are the elements effectively used by writer/director Guillermo del Toro in the Spanish “The Devil’s Backbone” (El Espinazo del Diablo), a chilling suspense about an orphanage haunted by a ghost – a restless soul that has more on its mind than merely rattling chains.

Set during the tumultuous times of the Spanish Civil War, the film opens with a young boy Carlos (Fernando Tielve) being entered into an orphanage. With his father killed in battle, Carlos must now live with other orphaned boys under the stern supervision of Carmen (Marisa Paredes). It does not take too long however before he realizes that the place is haunted. The boys dare not talk about the “one who sighs”, but curious as Carlos is, he slowly uncovers the mysteries surrounding the ghost and the secrets held by those of the living.

“The Devil’s Backbone” is a movie that takes full advantage of its setting. The entire film almost never leaves the confining walls of the orphanage, and with it being almost a day’s walk to the nearest town, the sense of abandonment is heightened. Death surrounds the lives of its inhabitants already, and it doesn’t quite help knowing that if anything goes wrong in there, no help from the outside can be expected.

The best thing about “The Devil’s Backbone” is that it is a good ghost story. It sets up the situations perfectly that there are scenes that will make you just want to look away from the screen for a second. For instance, there was one scene where Carlos sneaks out to the kitchen to get some water. Almost pitch black and with the air ever so still, Carlos hears his name in the form of a faint whisper coming from an uninviting stairway leading to the basement. You can’t help but think, “Don’t you dare go down there.”

However, just like those Spanish soap operas on television, the film suffers from the occasional melodramatics. It gets too caught up in petty theatrics involving Carmen, a groundskeeper and other supporting characters that the ghost story takes a back seat.

Just like the outline of a spine, the film has its ups and downs. Although not quite as bone chilling as “Session 9” (a much better and more terrifying suspense/thriller seen by no one), “The Devil’s Backbone” is good for a few jolts.

Film is Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality. Subtitled. Running time is 106 minutes.

3 out of 5


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