The Devil's Backbone

Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican horror specialist whose highly regarded Cronos was followed by the Hollywood misfire Mimic, should recoup his reputation with this neogothic yarn (2001) set in an isolated orphanage for boys during the Spanish civil war. The specificity of the political-historical content diminishes the suggestiveness of the horror elements, which have been borrowed largely from Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, and the political resonance is reduced because the source of all evil is a single villain who lacks both political and supernatural overtones. What's left is an entertaining and atmospheric revenge tale, embellished with a Lord of the Flies boy-ocracy, Buñuelian black humor (strict schoolmistress Marisa Paredes parks her wooden leg before taking on a strapping young stud), and the memorable image of an unexploded bomb towering like a monument in the orphanage's courtyard. In Spanish with subtitles. 106 min.

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