The Devil's Backbone: Review

"What is a ghost?" Thus begin's Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, a classic ghost story set at a rural orphanage during the last week of the Spanish Civil War. It's a hypnotic slow burn that's part murder mystery and part coming of age story, with a bit of historical melodrama thrown in. Produced by the acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, there is a strong stylistic tone throughout that complements del Toro's deft and emotional direction. Nothing is rushed in this movie and scenes unfold in tense, atmospheric trickles.

The 2001 film was restored by Criterion and released last week on blu-ray for the first time. It includes all the previous special features from the 2004 DVD release as well as slew of new extras, including an interactive director's notebook that takes you deeper into the movie. Beyond the incredibly improved picture quality, the highlight of the blu-ray is its audio which brings out the lush, dense soundtrack like never before. The pervasive wind, the ghostly yowls, the echoing chambers are all more resonant, and the lush orchestral score beautifully enhances the melancholy tone.

Because it's completely in Spanish, it may not be for every taste, but the new English subtitles (by del Toro himself!) have been greatly improved. And in the disc's introduction, del Toro says that this is his favorite movie (along with Pan's Labyrinth which he call's a companion piece) so that alone makes it a must-see/must-own for genre fans.