Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
"Following a mediocre outing to Hollywood with Mimic, director Guillermo del Toro returns to his native Spain for The Devil’s Backbone, a mightily impressive Gothic horror set during the Civil War. New boy Carlos no sooner arrives at a remote orphanage than he encounters a ghost whose presence seems to plead for retribution on a killer. The story gathers in force, enhanced by a cast that mixes young and old (Marisa Paredes and Federico Luppi are marvellous as the children’s protectors) and is resonant with echoes of larger events outside the orphanage walls (an unexploded bomb remains propped in the courtyard). Del Toro builds dread with masterly restraint, and brings to his compositions some eerie and original astonishments." — The Independent
"Guillermo del Toro is a horror director out of joint with his times. Where the rest of his genre has retreated towards the Day-Glo self-parody of Scream, this Mexican-born thirtysomething has set himself up as a kind of Latino H.P. Lovecraft. His tales are a simmering cocktail of ripe melodramatics laced with a languid, narcotic line in chills. Set in civil war-era Spain, The Devil’s Backbone spins a magic-realist ghost story full of angst, mystery and pungent nooks and crannies. Its haunted house is a labyrinthine gothic schoolhouse that doubles as a shelter for the orphaned sons of the republican militia.
Its staff include a wise professor, a one-legged matriarch and a hunky handyman up to no good. Meanwhile the children find their nights disturbed by ‘the one who sighs’, a whispering phantom presence who may just be the ghost of an orphan gone missing weeks before. Del Toro’s Spanish landscape is a hard clash of sunshine and shadow (one shot of a black doorway framing a bright exterior looks like a direct lift from The Searchers). But in the end it is the shadows that dominate.Like all good ghost stories, The Devil’s Backbone dims the lights for its creepy finale." — Xan Brooks, The Guardian