Monday, 4 April 2011

The Devil’s Backbone (2001) - a tense depiction of the suppressed state of a nation during civil war (happens to feature a spooky ghost kid)

Viewing Context:
LoveFilm: I think I put it on the list after watching Cronos.

Antonio Trashorras and David Muñoz both have writing credits, but the film is quintessentially a Guillermo Del Toro written and directed feature. You can really see the same themes arising and progressing through Cronos, onto this and then reaching a level of real maturity with Pan’s Labyrinth.

What Happened:
A kid is dropped off at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. The owners and the children are hidden away from the destructive wave of the Franco’s dictatorship. This orphanage is ran by couple of well to do old folk, but not all the adults there have such pure hearts; a younger man, who had arrived fifteen years ago as an orphan is not sympathetic to the cause and is intent on finding the stashed gold that is keeping the orphanage running. Add into the mix a spooky ghost kid and you have a creepy story commenting on the suppressive life of wartime.

What I liked:
No cheap scares: The film created a tense atmosphere, not looking for cheap scares and jumps, but really getting into the psychological conflict of a child locked in this environment.
Social claustrophobia: The presence of this ghost heightens the already claustrophobic atmosphere created by the backdrop of the civil war.
Ghost boy: Though not particularly intimidating (as he wasn't supposed to be), he is really haunting. He is never used as a gimmick; rather, he becomes a genuine character.

Not so keen on:
Flat protagonist: Almost every supporting character was more interesting and had more depth than the lead. As the film goes on, these more interesting characters receive more screen time, but the first half is a bit boring-kid-centric. This doesn't do much harm to the film, but still thought it worth mentioning.

The claustrophobic and fearful nature of the civil war: This tiny secluded society is allegorical for the nation, where the youth are being given no opportunities. They are being protected and watched over by the declining thoughtful sect of the older generations. It only takes the slightest element of greed - symbolically in this film, coming from someone born in this situation; i.e. the same conditions that the situation itself creates - to complete a sort of self fulfilling and destructive cycle of right-wing individualism and greed. In such situations there is an understandable level of repression and fear, which again then brings out the worst characteristics in people.

Performance of the film:
Federico Lupi as Dr Cesares: He added the wisdom, weight and gravitas that the film needed. A man with a heavy heart, doing his best but not feeling that it is good enough. He also starred in Del Toro's Cronos

Scene of the film:
Devastation: After a moment of devastation that drastically changes the picture, the fragility of the situation is put to the forefront. Lupi really carries this scene as he assesses the damage.

Final Word:
Hopefully it doesn’t come to you marketed as a 'scary film' or dare I say a 'horror film', because it isn’t. It is a very tense and affective depiction of the suppressed state of a nation during civil war, which happens to feature a spooky ghost kid.

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