21 May 2005 | Gafke
A Beautiful, Bloody Ghost Story
The year is 1939. The Spanish Civil War is nearing its bloody end. Ten year old Carlos, the orphaned son of a slain Republican, is left by his tutor at an isolated orphanage for boys. The school is destitute, barely able to provide enough food for the children, but headmistress Carmen and Dr. Casares do the best they can. Carlos accepts his fate bravely, but there are still school bullies to contend with, an unexploded bomb sitting in the courtyard as a constant reminder of the war which still rages, and an abusive caretaker named Jacinto who has his own secret agenda. As if that were not enough, a ghost begins stalking Carlos, the ghost of a boy named Santi whose demise is shrouded in mystery and who solemnly warns Carlos that many will soon die. As the war begins closing in on the orphanage, violence erupts within and Santi's prediction comes sadly true. But the worst has not yet happened. The abandoned boys must band together if they hope to survive, and the dead will aid their cause if they are to be avenged.
This is a beautiful movie, absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. The dusty, isolated landscape is a ghost itself and the constant threat of violence - from the war, to the bullies and, of course, from the traitorous Jacinto - gives this film an unrelenting atmosphere of tension and dread. The acting is superb, from the children as well as the adults. Federico Luppi as Dr. Casares is superb, providing us with a true hero, a gentleman of class and compassion. Eduardo Noriega is perfectly cast as the despicable Jacinto, making you despise him more and more as the film progresses. This is not just a ghost story, though the figure of Santi is central and key to everything that happens. It is a tale of love and honor as well as horror and ruin. It is a coming of age story and an adult drama. It also manages to be scary as hell when it wants to be.
Guillermo del Toro has made a masterpiece with "The Devils Backbone." Ten stars for this hauntingly lovely epic.