the devil's backbone (2001): ghost story with soul

Guillermo Del Toro is undoubtedly one of my favourites in the film world--if Wong Kar-Wai appeals to me through his nostalgic romanticism (and HK of some time ago-the HK I wish to remember), then Del Toro appeals to me through his cinematic (and literary) exploration of imagination alongside reality (or reality alongside imagination), fantasy, and horror.

El Espinazo del Diablo--a kind of predecessor to his later-on big hit, Pan's Labyrinth, is also set against the Spanish Civil War in a Loyalist-run orphanage, housing the children of deceased Loyalists. It's a multifaceted story of a new boy who learns of a murdered child whose ghost continually haunts for revenge.  Their minds are impressionable with myths and fantasies and impose their imagination upon the world they live in--but are they merely conjured?   Then there are the adults--flawed protectors and one used-to-be-orphan-now-aggressor who will stop at nothing to steal gold from the orphanage. What makes the film enjoyably suspenseful is the constant reminder of tension: nuclear bomb in the orphanage, waging warfare, ghostly intervention, the muddy dirt and darkness, all pointing to some unavoidable doom cast upon them all. Imagery is beautiful--love the contrast of bright dusty yellow dessert and blue skies against shadowy dark tones of the night. The boys are as wonderful as they are terrible to each other--though charming and innocent despite their Lord of the Flies-attributes. In the end, the children depart from the world that, in its harsh and stark way, protected them against the 'real reality', which is much darker and more horrifying than the ghosts or the foes they confronted in their enclosed orphanage.

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