Although Del Toro insists that this is not a film about the Civil War, by trapping and threatening its inhabitants the orphanage inevitably becomes a mirror for the events outside. These four walls become a place of protection for boys who have been orphaned during the war, a place for them to lead a relatively normal existence full of school life, bullying and adventure. Their main source of the latter being Santi, a young ghost who haunts the halls looking for revenge for his recent murder. Yet the pivotal character who evokes real fear in the children is not the spirit, but the greedy, selfish Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), a former orphan, whose experiences have left him with deep emotional scars. With a strong cast and even stronger imagery (created by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro) Del Toro whips up a hauntingly effective film about love, life and the afterlife.
On the DVD: entering the extras literally through the keyhole, there are several opportunities to obtain a deeper understanding of this disturbing film. A "Behind the Scenes" featurette includes the casts own character profiles and interpretation of the story, as well as Del Toro explaining his thoughts about the film and how he achieved some shots. Two of the sequences"Aerial Bombardment" and "The Ghost"--can be seen in further technical detail, with film footage and computer animation combined to make a whole scene. A selection of storyboards can also be viewed which run alongside the soundtrack to the scene, with the option to intercut between storyboard and finished film. A theatrical trailer, a picture gallery and written biographies are standard. The film and additional features are in Spanish with English subtitles and menu. With Dolby 5:1 sound and a widescreen picture, the film not only looks and sounds, but also feels fantastically chilling. --Nikki Disney
Taking on themes such as the brutality of war and the loss of innocence, Guillermo del Toro's (Mimic) film skillfully combines elements of war, gothic horror, melodrama and adventure to create a work that functions as both a genre film and a politically resonant piece of nostalgia. The Devil's Backbone uses history as a means of transforming what would otherwise be a routine ghost story into a powerful and affecting statement.