If you are not familiar with Criterion, you need to familiarize yourself with them soon. The company is known for taking films that are important for one reason or another to film history and giving them painstaking remasters to be presented on DVD or in more recent years, Blu-ray. The remasters are often stunning and revelatory and for many of the film, is the only way they should be seen. Their editions are almost always done with the participation of the original director or cinematographer and are usually considered the definitive versions of any particular film. This month sees the release of their second collaboration with director Guillermo Del Toro on his film The Devils Backbone.
In 1939, Carlos, a young Spanish boy, is left in a mysterious orphanage in the middle of nowhere after the death of his father in the Spanish Republican War. Carlos finds the people who run the orphanage tolerable enough, but finds dealing with the ghost of a young boy named Santi a little more challenging. Not to mention the huge unexploded bomb that is embedded in the courtyard, still ticking away and threatening to blow at any moment. Now Carlos must contend with his new life in the orphanage, a bully that has set his sights on him, the ghost, the bomb and General Francos Nationalist troops getting closer by the day. But Santi the ghost may be providing clues as to Carlos future, and perhaps the future of all those around him as well.
The Devils Backbone is a mesmerizing ghost story told by a master filmmaker and storyteller. You can see shades of Del Toro’s later work here as well, especially Pan’s Labyrinth. There are even shades of films that Del Toro only produced or presented, such as The Orphanage and Mama. These are all classic, and classy, ghost stories told with style and grace with great characters that an audience can identify with. This is especially the case in The Devils Backbone as we have all had times as a young child when we felt alone and scared like Carlos does. With the great story being told through his eyes and Del Toro’s lens, you just can’t ask for more.
The Blu-ray from Criterion is gorgeous. This is a vast and noticeable improvement on the previous DVD release. The picture is rich and textured with fine detail and amazing clarity, even in the numerous dark scenes. This is one of those instances when you can tell the involvement of the director and the director of photography made all the difference in the world. This is the only way The Devils Backbone should ever be viewed and watching it was like seeing it for the first time, with many details popping out that I never even knew existed. Highly recommended.
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD.