The Devil’s Backbone (2001)


A devilishly atmospheric and eerily haunting ghost story set in an isolated part of Spain. The Devil’s Backbone is a dreary tale bursting with morals and fantastical elements. With a slew of highly entrancing visuals, loveable characters, and a transient apparition seeking peace. The Devil’s Backbone is a prime example of truly frightening horror without the surplus of gore that seems to be plaguing modern entries into the genre. Brilliantly capturing the essence of innocence and wisdom of maturity. This spooky plot is equally as heartwarming and grounded as it is petrifying. Co-written and directed by cinematic poet Guillermo del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone contains the dynamic lyricism, airy imagery, and reasonable amount of violence that you’d except from this master of chills and thrills. It might prove too subtle for some…nevertheless, this outstanding achievement is an instant horror classic.


One day, Carlos (Tielve) unknowingly is taken to an orphanage after being left behind by his parents. Upon befriending the children at the home, Carlos begins to see an apparition. As the children play and somewhat misbehave, Carlos has his first brush with Jacinto (Noriega), the orphanage’s groundskeeper who is rough and unruly with the kids. One night, the children recall the tale of a former orphan at the home named Santi (Valverde), who they claim wanders the building. After Carlos and the children discover a terrifying secret surrounding the orphanage and its employees. The children must find a way to uncover and correct the crimes committed at the orphanage.


The very moment the ominous voice-over begins and the run-down orphanage becomes illuminated by a low-hanging moon. An endless shiver and persistent goosebumps submerge the viewer’s body. This is a testament to The Devil’s Backbone’s complete immersion, from start to finish, of both the physical and mental aspects of its viewers existence. Since his first release Cronos to the more popular Pans Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro has been able to strike this startling experience into his audience. Which is precisely the reason why del Toro has grown into such a revered filmmaker. It’s not only his prowess to evoke, and then control those emotions he so willingly extracted that makes del Toro so effective. He concocts these stories that somehow transcend the screen and stay afloat in the viewers mind for years without caving under their own insignificance. After you’ve witnessed a del Toro film, it’s near impossible to forget them.


With such an emphasis on the believability of innocence and terror. The Devil’s Backbone needed a young, diligent cast to convey these indescribable instincts. Leading the way is Fernando Tielve, Junio Valverde, and Eduardo Noriega. This is Tielve’s first role in cinema and from his performance, one would never have guessed. Tielve, unquestionably connects with the viewer and astoundingly exudes a never-ending drive to fulfill a meaningful, fortuitous life. Junio Valverde, who remarkable portrays an unsettled phantom, swiftly moves across rickety hallways and sweetly bursts with undying energy. As for Noriega, his take on a ruthless, misogynistic, ferocious sociopath is as sublime as one who sums these qualities can be. Nevertheless, The Devil’s Backbone’s ensemble matches del Toro’s wit and ideals stride for stride.

backbone ghost

Having garnered numerous mentions on lists comprised of the best horror films, not only of the decade, but all time. The Devil’s Backbone is a must see for all horror enthusiasts. Finding that eloquent balance of fear and empathy, del Toro discredits the naysayers with the subtle screamer that is The Devil’s Backbone. Set to be inducted into the Criterion Collection on July 30, 2013. It appears that this is the final proof of the staggering emotional power and vividly beautiful nightmare that is The Devil’s Backbone.

The Devil’s Backbone: 8.5 out of 10.

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Aspiring writer who absolutely adores film and television.

Posted on May 23, 2013, in Horror and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. This movie is EXCELLENT! Great post!

  2. Them Spaniards sure know how to make haunting tragedies. Great post, and it’s nice to see this film getting the attention and reverence it deserves.

    • I try to recommend it to everyone I know because the sad truth is that it is highly underrated and under-seen. I don’t know what it is about the Spaniards but they seem to take great joy in creating upsetting films and the dismay it causes us haha. Thanks for the kind words :).

  3. Fantastic film. The kids are really good in it and the ghost is beautifully designed. Love it

  4. Nice one, man. Having recently revisited Pan’s Labyrinth, I thought about doing the same with this. It’s an outstanding film and deserves it’s place amongst the best of recent horrors. Great review buddy!

    • Thanks! That’s funny, I was going to watch Pans Labyrinth but chose The Devil’s Backbone instead. Maybe I’ll check it out again anyways, but you’re right, it is an outstanding flick and deserves credit it doesn’t get. Thanks again :).

  5. I really enjoyed the fact that the film is set in a specific time and place. Because the human factor is anchored in reality, when the supernatural elements come out, they stand out that much more.

  6. Great review. Been meaning to check this out, as I’m a HUGE fan of Pan’s Labyrinth.

  7. I may have watched this a bit late but this is classic Del Toro that is hard to beat! Nice read my friend.

  8. I watched this movie many years ago, and I remember liking it and thinking that it is a great horror movie. And yup, it creeped me out.

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