Monkey Reviews

Through the Eyes of A Chimp

Monkey Reviews
October 22, 2007
“The Devil’s Backbone” – now you see the Monkey, now you don’t.

Everyone loves a good ghost story. Whether it’s sharing age-old favorites around a campfire, accompanied by the natural sound-effects of the great outdoors or whether it’s in the comfort of the familiar, on a couch, curled up with a scary book under a cozy blanket. I’m assuming this is universal; the love of a story that keeps you on edge. And yet, despite this shared experience, these stories rarely translate well on screen. What ends up happening is either the special effects take over or the storyline ends up being railroaded by the cheese-factor. Bottom line, it is rare that Hollywood combines scary with smart.

That’s why “The Devil’s Backbone” was such a pleasant surprise. This is an earlier film by the director who created “Pan’s Labyrinth”. If you’ve seen “Pan’s Labyrinth” you’ll recognize the setting. The Spanish Civil War serves as the backdrop and while there is a definite nod to the political situation of that time, this historical event or ideology doesn’t take centre stage. Better said, the war that had ravaged and tore Spain apart in the 1930’s plays itself out in an orphanage far removed from the eye of the storm. The writer manages to seamlessly bring the various themes together which creates an end-product that reflects the macrocosm of a national crisis and the microcosm of an orphanage at the edge of the world where the dynamics between 20 orphaned boys end up mirroring the larger picture. Both themes get their proper due.

Left at that it would be a good movie but what makes it great is the presence of the supernatural. Again, the writer doesn’t tack it on or slip it in on the side but weaves this piece in in such a way that the spiritual is just as much of a reality as the political. Creating the effect of this ominous presence isn’t over-the-top or “trinky” but it is simple and in the end you are intrigued not so much by the scare-factor but by the mystery that lies behind this apparition.

Watching “The Devil’s Backbone” is like watching a magic trick. Just when you think you’ve figured out the story-line, another one emerges and you end up with a story within a story within a story, all magically dove-tailed together. “The Devil’s Backbone” is more than just Halloween fare, it is a story that rolls all things in one: political, relational and supernatural. Monkey loved it.