Guillermo del Toro is fascinated with the Gothic, and his 2001 supernatural melodrama about ghosts and gold in 1930s Spain may be the most perfect expression of that fascination. War orphan Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is the innocent abandoned at an isolated Spanish school, where a dark secret must be unraveled. Del Toro's third film, but the first he felt happy about, The Devil's Backbone is a companion piece to the more famous Pan's Labyrinth. The director even suggests they could become two-thirds of a trilogy of thematically interlinked fables set against the Spanish Civil War. In the plethora of bonus features, Oberlin College professor Sebastiaan Faber and del Toro himself argue that Backbone is a metaphor for that bloody conflict. The orphans and their guardians are the flawed but well-intended leftist Republicans, and the brooding and narcissistic handyman Jacinto (The Last Stand's Eduardo Noriega) stands in for the preening Fascist Nationalist. But its power is in its relationships, especially how deeply and accurately it re-creates the complex web of allegiances, feuds, and unexpected solidarity between young boys. That one of them is already dead makes the tale all the more eerie.
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