Friday, October 31, 2008

Night 29: The Devil's Backbone

Tired of more misses than hits, I've decided to close out my selections with two known quantities. First up is Guillermo Del Toro's best film so far, The Devil's Backbone. Many will question that designation, citing Pan's Labyrinth, but I personally feel this earlier film is much tighter, more affecting, and better acted. There's no question it is more frightening.

Set during the closing years of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil's Backbone tells the story of a little boy named Carlos who enters an orphanage under the assumption that he is merely waiting there until his father returns from the front lines. We know better, of course, giving Carlos a poignance and a pathos that immediately connects him to the viewer. Inside the orphanage, a Gothic mystery unfolds and envelops Carlos, inexorably forcing upon him an encounter with the ghost of a fellow orphan. Though the war is mostly a distant backdrop, an unexploded bomb in the courtyard serves as an ominous and ever present reminder. It's these types of details that make Del Toro's films so memorable. Raised by a devout Catholic grandmother (who twice tried exorcism as a means of banishing his fascination with all things dark and monstrous), and obsessed with comic books, Del Toro developed a keen appreciation for the power of culturally-loaded iconography. His films tap the deep well of myth and history that flows beneath every story ever told, enriching what might otherwise come off as melodrama with the elan of allegory. The Devil's Backbone is a film almost completely devoid of the usual horror tricks. Much of it is filmed in broad daylight and once the ghost is sighted, the camera does not turn away and try to sneak up on us from behind. We are forced to face our fears head on. The longer the camera lingers on the ghost, the more our simple aversion turns to a strange and morbid attraction. Through Carlos, we become participants in the story and vested in the outcome. As with only the best of all horror films, fear becomes less of desired side-effect and more of a transformative rite of passage, through which we reach a more vivid understanding of the world.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:

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