Ghost stories are never scary. They do have few moments of fright and horror but nothing more and rest all is violence, gore and loud screams. And most of it is the fear of the characters which some how movie makers feel that the viewer’s will feel too. yeah no doubt we humans have the uncanny tendency to sway with emotions of others but somehow fear is too internal, too personal a thing to go along like that. And Guillermo del Toro does well to avoid all these.
The Devil’s backbone is a story set in an Orphanage, against the back drop of Spanish civil war. Carlos, whose father has died and is left with a tutor who also abandons him, lands at the orphanage. As the story progress amidst minor scuffles between Carlos and other children, Carlos learns about ‘the one who sighs’. A shabby looking building, dusty surrounding, semi-dark indoors, basements with muddy pools and a unexploded 10 feet high bomb in the courtyard all add to fantastic atmosphere, though nothing is overdone as to make them look scary. The ghost here is quite interestingly shown, as he moves there’s a semi liquid air around him where blood droplets float and also there’s a wound on his forehead which flows regularly acting as a source of all those droplets.
As the story progress with Carlos frequently seeing the dead orphan, which all other’s can sometimes hear or seem to, Del toro also focuses on the Old lady headmaster who’s a widow but is having an secret affair with Jacinth, who works there and is also a an orphan from the same orphanage, though he detests this part of his life and is waiting to clear his hand on the gold which the Lady headmaster has save in the name of the Orphanage. Also in the story is old Dr. Casares who’s quite fond of Carlos and also is a past lover of the Lady headmaster, though the old flame still burns deep.
Tension builds as The ghost frequents its visits and diverts also as Jacinth reveals his true face but then this not so obvious focus on scare is the scoring line of the movie.
Movie ends with Casares’s following words as he himself turns into a ghost:
What is a ghost?
A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again?
An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive.
An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.