• Devil’s Backbone, The



    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: July 5th, 2017.
    Director: Guillermo Del Toro
    Cast: Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Irene Visedo
    Year: 2001

    The Movie:

    Set in 1939 as the Spanish Civil War comes to a close with Franco’s right wing Nationalist forces overtaking the left leaning Republican troops, Guillermo Del Toro’s 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone introduces us to a twelve year old boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve). His later father was a well-respected Republican killed in the war and when we first meet Carlos, the tutor who has been caring for him has dropped him off at an orphanage out in the middle of the countryside run by Professor Casares (Federico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes), both Republican sympathizers. Assisting them are groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega) and a teacher with whom he is involved named Conchita (Irene Visedo). The orphanage is an odd place, large and sprawling with a giant unexploded bomb, still ticking, stuck in the ground in the middle of the courtyard.

    Carlos doesn’t adjust to his new surroundings overnight. He is bullied at first by Jaime (Íñigo Garcés) but eventually befriends him. However, he remains uncomfortable, especially after an unpleasant introduction to Jacinto when he was caught looking in an unusual storage room with a well inside. If that weren’t enough, Carlos continues to see what he believes to be the ghost of Santi (Junio Valverde), a deceased former resident of the orphanage. Santi appears to Carlos early in his stay at the orphanage for reasons that the new recruit doesn’t understand. Santi’s warning – “Many of you will die” – however, would indicate that the restless spirit is trying to warn him of something.

    As Franco’s troops come ever closer and a large cache of Republican gold hidden away in the orphanage, it would seem that Santi’s warning may be more apt than anyone realizes.

    Written before Cronos, his directorial debut, Del Toro’s story at times feels like as much of a dark fairy tale as it does a horror movie, a trait that can be applied to a lot of the director’s work. Still, there’s enough here for genre fans to chew on, particularly those who enjoy a good ghost story. In many ways, the film deals with childhood innocence – in this case clearly represented by Carlos – that becomes corrupted at the actions of the adults around him, as represented not just by Jacinto but by the war being waged not far from the orphanage location. At the same time, the movie does a great job of keeping us not just sympathetic to Carlos’ plight but in keeping the audience intrigued by the supernatural element. The ghost story aspect of the picture stands in contrast to the political side of the film but by the time it’s all over with, Del Toro has wrapped it up in a way that is both surprisingly and entirely appropriate. Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes are kindly, likeable and genuinely ‘nice’ as their characters while Eduardo Noriega is sufficiently nasty as the picture’s chief antagonist.

    The film features some impressive performances. Fernando Tielve, quite young when he starred in the picture, is very good here. He has a tragic sensibility to him that serves the character well and he’s able to handle everything that Del Toro throws at him from a performer’s perspective. The supporting roles here are well played too.

    Production values are solid here. Shot on location in Spain, the visuals are impressive. The cinematography from Guillermo Navarro (who would later work with Del Toro on quite a few projects such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim) does a great job of capturing the shadowy interiors of the orphanage as well as the hot exteriors of the desert-ish area that surrounds it. The effects that serve to turn Junio Valverde into Santi are also pretty effective, thankfully not overdone but definitely creepy enough to ensure that his presence unsettles us the same way that it unsettles Carlos. Add to this a really strong score from Javier Navarrete (who Del Toro would also use again on Pan’s Labyrinth) and you wind up with an impressively well made film.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Devil’s Backbone arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc and it looks gorgeous (it appears to be taken from the same 2k remaster of the film’s original negative that was used for the North American Blu-ray release that came out via the Criterion Collection a couple of years ago). Detail is excellent and there’s great depth and texture here, while color reproduction is fantastic, even in the scenes that have been altered in post-production to create a specific ambience. Black levels are rock solid and skin tones look nice. There are no noticeable issues at all with any compression artifacts nor are there any problems to note with edge enhancement or noise reduction. Really, it’s hard to find anything to complain about here at all, the picture quality on this release is excellent.

    The only audio mix on the disc is a Spanish language DTS-HD 5.1 mix with optional subtitles offered in English only. The lossless mix here really does justice to the intricate sound design employed in the film, ensuring that when subtle things happen at certain points in the movie, if you’re listening you’ll pick up on them. This adds to the suspense and the mood immensely and the clarity of the mix is certainly a big plus here. Dialogue comes through nice and clear and it sounds quite natural throughout while the film’s score has great presence and power behind it. There’s a solid low end to the mix as well, but the bass thankfully doesn’t bury the performers at all. Again, no complaints, the movie sounds excellent.

    In addition to a quick one minute introduction from director Guillermo del Toro we also get a full length audio commentary in which he’s joined by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro.

    From there we move on to a series of featurettes, the first of which is an eighteen minute piece entitled Spanish Gothic which is an interview with Toro wherein he talks about here he first got the idea for the story told in this film. He also talks about how those ideas evolved over the course of the production based on the locations that were used for the shoot and other variables, before then going on to elaborate on some of the themes that the picture uses in its narrative. Up next is a half hour long piece called Que Es Un Fantasma? This is basically a making of documentary that is comprised over interviews with Toro and Navarro, co-writer Antonio Trashorras, art director Cesar Macarron, production manager Esther Garcia, make-up artists David Marti and Montse Ribe, and cast members Marisa Paredes, Eduardo Noriega, Fernando Tielve and Federico Luppi. It’s a pretty thorough piece that goes a long way towards documenting the history of the film as well as sharing the experiences of the various cast and crew members that were involved in its genesis. Del Toro also pops up in a thirteen minute archival piece where he and the core cast members talk about shooting a few of the more memorable scenes featured in the picture alongside some behind the scenes footage shot on the set.

    Umbrella has also included a selection of four deleted Scenes (Carlos And The Principal / Encounter In The Plaza / Carmen And Conchita / I'm Coming With You). Rounding out the extras are sixty-two minutes of Storyboard Comparisons, Del Toro’s Director's Notebook, the film’s theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. It’s also worth pointing out that Umbrella Entertainment offers this release with some nice reversible cover art.

    The Final Word:

    The Devil’s Backbone remains one of Del Toro’s best pictures. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray debut treats the picture with the respect it deserves, offering it up in beautiful shape and with an impressive array of extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!