Friday, October 26, 2012

What Is a Ghost?

The Devil's Backbone
Director Guillermo del Toro's first anti-Franco horror film, 2001's The Devil's Backbone explores many of the themes common to his films: parental abandonment; the horrors of war; children who are 'different;' man's inhumanity to man and ghosts. 

Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage, thinking his stay is temporary, until his father returns from the war. In the orphange's courtyard lies a supoosedly diffused bomb. Carlos tries to make friends, but is bullied by Jaime (Inigo Garces), who steals Carlos' comic book. That night, when an apparent ghost knocks over the water pitcher, Carlos and Jaime dare one another to go to the kitchen and refill it. Carlos is caught by Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) and sent back to bed. The next day, Carlos saves Jaime from drowning, despite having his face cut by Jacinto. Eventually, Jaime tells Carlos the story of Santi, an orphan who died the day the bomb was dropped and who now supposedly haunts the orphanage. Jacinto learns that there is a large stash of gold in the orphanage and plans to take it, but is foiled when the orphanage's director Carmen (Marissa Paredes) refuses to give him the key to the safe. Carmen is in love with Dr. Casares, but he is too scared to admit he loves her. When he witnesses the murders of Carlos' tutor and body guard, he decides to lead all of the orphans out of the city. His plan is spoiled when Jacinto burns down much of the orphanage in failed attempt to steal the gold, during which Casares is mortally wounded. 

Jaime tells Carlos he saw Jacinto kill Santi in the cistern. Meanwhile, Jacinto returns for the gold with band of hooligans, who abandon him when they find the safe empty. The remaining orphans, knowing that Jacinto is evil, arm themselves with sharpened sticks and pointed rocks. When Jacinto finally finds the gold (hidden in Carmen's prosthetic leg), he is confronted by them and thrown into the very cistern where he drowned Santi. Weighed down by the gold and dragged down by Santi's ghost, Jacinto disappears in the murky water and the orphans leave as the ghost of Casares watches over them.

Just a bit grimmer than Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone is remarkably atmospheric and quite chilling. Del Toro truly found his voice with this film and his love of the genre and flair for ominous visuals is in full display. I imagine a double feature of the two films would be rather... intense. Later films produced by del Toro (The Orphanage and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark) explore similar themes, though none quite so horrifyingly as The Devil's Backbone. Del Toro has said it may be his most personal film, which I must imagine says a lot about his own childhood. 

Del Toro's next film Pacific Rim, is his homage to Japanese kaiju (monster) movies of the 50's and 60's.

Given del Toro's amazing visuals (see Hellboy II  and Pan's Labyrinth), Pacific Rim should be THE Sci-Fi movie of 2013. Personally, I am bummed that his proposed adaption of At the Mountains of Madness isn't going to happen.

More, anon.

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