Devil's Backbone, The ( espinazo del diablo, El )
"The Devil's Backbone" by Yojimbo
Pan's Labyrinth was not Guillermo Del Toro's first stab at a story that mixes fantasy with a tale of the Spanish civil war. In the Devil's Backbone, a young boy is abandoned at an orphanage for children whose fathers were killed in the fighting and is haunted by a ghostly apparition that holds the secret of a tragic past event. The thing that stands out about this film is it's haunting atmosphere. There is no running around screaming, no blood and guts, no monsters jumping out at you. Del Toro's visuals are as sumptuous as always, almost resembling a Leone spaghetti western in places, and the visual effects are frankly stunning; the recreation of the ghostly boy is incredibly effective and bears more resemblance to the subtlety of J-horror than gore obsessed Hollywood film makers. Add to this a script that thankfully avoids all the usual horror cliches and expands on the basic concept to include a host of well constructed characters and relationships instead of hysterical stereotypes and you have something that is no conventional horror film by any sense of the word. A beautiful piece of film-making.