Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Video review: "The Devil's Backbone"

If you’ve checked out “Pacific Rim” in local theaters, you might already be familiar with director Guillermo del Toro. He got his start in his native Mexico, then came to Hollywood to make some commercially successful but not particularly good pictures (“Mimic,” “Hellboy”). In 2001, he returned to his native language to make a minor masterpiece, “The Devil’s Backbone.”

This moody, gorgeous horror/drama is now being issued as a Criterion Collection – the gold standard for video releases. It comes with a host of extra goodies, in addition to a sumptuous transfer of the film.

The story is set during the waning days of the Spanish Civil War. A young boy, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) is sent to a remote orphanage where strange things are happening. An unexploded bomb sits buried in the courtyard like a religious totem, and there are rumors of gold hidden somewhere underground, perhaps being used to fund the Republicans.

Carlos is assigned the empty bed that used to belong to Santi, who disappeared mysteriously and whose spirit is still lingering around. Meanwhile Jacinto, a former resident turned groundskeeper, has various swindles and schemes going on.

Rife with symbolism and dark portents, it’s a beautiful and genuinely frightening film, part ghost story and part coming-of-age drama. If you want to see a true representation of del Toro’s prodigious talents, start with “The Devil’s Backbone.”

As is expected with any Criterion Collection, the video includes a raft of exhaustive bonus materials. These include an all-new digital transfer of the film, and a feature-length commentary track and introduction by del Toro.

There is also a making-of documentary, archival interviews, deleted scenes, perspective from a Spanish Civil War expert, storyboards/sketches a new English subtitle translation.



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