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2,354 Ratings

The Devil's Backbone

El espinazo del diablo

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


Spain in the late 30s, just days before the end of the Civil War. Ten-year-old Carlos, whose Republican father was killed in battle, is left at the Santa Lucia orphanage, an impressive stone structure in the middle of a desolate landscape where war orphans gather…

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The Devil's Backbone Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Almost nothing in the narrative should scare or surprise you. But on the way home, you might find yourself thinking about how richly del Toro layered his characters, how much he feels for them, and how much the movie is about the hope that there’s something more lasting to human life than just what’s physical. In its own morbidly, bittersweet way, it is an optimistic film. Perhaps because, when del Toro shows you a ghost at night, he doesn’t want you to jump. He wants you to find it beautiful.
October 22, 2017
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The ironies explode The Devil’s Backbone out of the strict realm of gothic myth, steering it into a terrain of free-associative bitterness and desire. Del Toro transcends the meta archetypes that dominate his work, forging something truly and terrifyingly human. The film is a drama first, and an essay on myths and history second.
November 01, 2016
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The unifying element is the slow, often cyclical march of time, and though Pan’s Labyrinth offers wilder imagery, The Devil’s Backbone is just as piercing in its depiction of the psychological and physical wounds that war inflicts on the innocent. One of the more invigorating elements of Del Toro’s films is his insistence on treating children with respect, rarely, if ever, showing them as outright victims, and this tendency has never been more clearly expressed than here.
August 20, 2013
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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.

  • 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.

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

    This is a visually stunning and powerful horror film from a true master of the craft, Guillermo Del Toro, that shows through his films that the real monsters are not the spirits that haunt us but the people that are right in front of us.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

    Pan's Labyrinth's older brother. Despite some beautifully haunting imagery that with the exception of one or two of his other movies doesn't feel as Del Toro. (Maybe that's the buzz from Pacific Rim talking.) Fantastic nonetheless, The Devil's Backbone is a fantastic & Santi is not only the greatest ghost ever but an achievement in character design. The final 45 minutes are painfully sad & justify the slow buildup.

  • 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.

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