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2,510 Ratings

The Devil's Backbone

El espinazo del diablo

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Spain, Mexico, 2001
Thriller, History, Horror


Spain in the last days of the Civil War. Carlos, 10, whose Republican father was killed in battle, is left by his guardian at the Santa Lucia orphanage. The bleak building conceal not only the adults’ dissolute relationships, but also the ghost of a boy who seems bent on making contact with Carlos.

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The Devil's Backbone Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Even as his extraordinary career takes him to the helm of blockbuster movies like Pacific Rim (2013), this sense of innocence remains an essential element of del Toro’s work—del Toro, the child whose life was “transformed by monsters,” who has devoted his career to exploring the inextricable relationship between pain and beauty, death and rebirth, damnation and salvation, and nowhere more poignantly than in the eerie enchantments of The Devil’s Backbone.
July 30, 2013
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Visually ravishing with its red, ochre and umber hues, it’s the most accomplished film by del Toro… With its complex characters and air of understatement, The Devil’s Backbone is far different in style from the director’s gleefully ballistic Blade 2. Like Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, it harks back not only to the more restrained style of ’60s horror pictures like The Haunting and The Innocents, but to 19th-century gothic-romance novels and the ghost stories of Henry James.
July 04, 2002
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Less excessive and more atmospheric than del Toro’s earlier films, The Devil’s Backbone is bathed in an amber light that burnishes the image to a fine surface gloss. Its agenda is ambitious. Del Toro’s screenplay is a discomfiting mix of gothic thriller, boy’s adventure story, and political allegory.
November 21, 2001
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What are people saying?

  • Nicholas Gregory's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    This is del Toro's best assembled narrative, his best film, and a pure literary masterpiece. The genre tropes earn their inclusion into a high-art narrative, and while The Devil's Backbone is more of a subtle drama/ ghost story, lacking the rousing action of Pan's Labyrinth, it's deeper in its dramatic layers of not just his characters, but the conceits, themes, and symbols. It also fully develops the emotion.

  • HKFanatic's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    By now, viewers of Guillermo Del Toro's work may know what to expect: a melancholy tale set in the midst of a horrifying moment in history, wherein the supernatural elements serve merely as a benevolent backdrop and humanity is responsible for the real violence. Which might be a kind way of saying Del Toro has found a comfortable mode to operate in over the course of his career, but at least here is the source text.

  • Robert H. Stevens's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    The original Spanish Civil War ghost story that cemented the reputation of its director as one of the most insightful and talented filmmakers. The chilling generational and ideological conflict that unfolds in the midst of the poor children who did nothing to deserve the bleak lot they've been left with.

  • Addy K.'s rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    Despite some clunky dialogue (a del Toro trademark?), THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is easily the director's best and most tender film in any language. A ghost story, a coming-of-age drama, a period piece set during the Spanish war, yet —above everything else—a film about the idea of attachment to a place and time. An unexploded bomb stuck in the school courtyard is not just singularly memorable, but essential to the story.

  • Duncan Gray's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    Is it an insult to say that a horror movie isn't scary but poignant? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. I find del Toro's fables beautiful, and this one—a dark fantasy and precursor to Pan's Labyrinth—shows a loving knowledge that ghost stories are about presence and absence, paranormal or no. And, like Cronos, it's got the optimism to hope that something of human life will outlast the physical.

  • There Will Be Josh Schasny's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    Fantastic. Del Toro has every right to call this his favorite film. It is his masterpiece. Not many horror films can double as a deep and allegorical coming-of-age film at the same time. The symbolism and iconography, the war backdrop, the haunted orphanage vibe, the multilayered story presents sinister horror as well as psychological horror. Not only that, the but the cinematography is excellent. A worthy film.

  • Mugino's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    A few nights before seeing this, I had the good fortune of hearing Del Toro speak in person. This is his most cherished film and as he puts it, the film that "saved" him from emotional and artistic despair. Both this and its sister, "Pan's Labyrinth" rose out of a dark period -- rage emanates from the former while salvation awaits in the latter. It's a spare, gothic poem hiding great emotional complexity.

  • Warren Spratley's rating of the film The Devil's Backbone

    Pretty terrible. Every emotion, every camera movement, every performance, color, piece of light, is a cheap, blatantly aggressive gimmick full of "meaning." It's a humorless, strangely violent piece of work, w/ moments of unconvincing characterization that make no sense, that add nothing to the overall shape of the film. In short, I'm supremely over Guillermo del Toro & his fantasy/reality parables. Pialat forever.

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