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The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Director: Guillermo del Toro

review by Debbie Moon

As the Spanish Civil War shudders to a close, an orphanage run by communist sympathisers finds itself in the path of the fascist forces' advance. But the horrors outside the walls are the least of their worries. The ghost of a dead child walks the corridors, looking for vengeance, and the adults are preoccupied with a horde of communist gold left in their keeping. As violence explodes within the isolated community, the children find themselves very much alone, and fighting for survival - and avenging the dead child may be the only way to end the madness...
   Calling del Toro's breakout film a horror movie is almost an injustice. Yes, it's atmospheric, steeped in the supernatural, and has at least one jump-out-of-your-seat scare. But, in fact, the ghost story is almost an excuse for an intense psychological study of individuals under extreme pressure, and what happens to their intellectual and morals beliefs as the certainty of death closes in. The spirit of little Santi is less a threat, more a warning of what lies ahead. The real terror here is what human beings are prepared to do out of guilt and fear and greed.
   With its complex and surprising characters, and some sterling performances from younger and older performers alike, The Devil's Backbone (aka: El Espinazo del Diablo) is a gripping thriller that teaches Hollywood a thing or two about both scares and good storytelling.
The Devil's Backbone
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