Guillermo Del Toro’s elegant and chilling ghost story is set in 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, and helped set the tone for his signature style as a director with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak.
A defused bomb from General Franco’s troops is looming over the courtyard of a boys’ orphanage run by Republican loyalists. Young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives and is given the bed of missing orphan Santi (Junio Valverde), known to the gang of boys as ‘the one who sighs’. Carlos learns of Santi’s disappearance and that it is believed he continues to haunt the orphanage. Threat comes from the living in this supernatural story.
Long before his blockbuster successes, Del Toro returned to Spanish-language filmmaking following his first Hollywood excursion with Mimic. The result remains one of his most impressive works. The Mexican director channels Spanish classics such as The Spirit of the Beehive for the theme of the suppressed horrors of the Civil War; a milieu to which he’d return with Pan’s Labyrinth.
The Devil’s Backbone is available on BFI Player+, here
RELEASED THIS WEEK ON BFI PLAYER:
A Monster Calls (2016)
Shooting from the spectacular heights of fantasy, straight to the beating heart of reality, A Monster Calls is a genuinely moving film of great wonder and beauty, directed by JA Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage) and based on the hugely popular book by Patrick Ness.
12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall is extraordinary) is bullied by his classmates because he sees the world differently. His mother (Felicity Jones), with whom he has a very special bond, is suffering from a terminal illness. His bossy grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) has become increasingly controlling. And his unreliable father (Toby Kebbell) is perpetually absent. Suddenly, a wizened and mysterious yew tree materialises to provide Conor with some much-needed guidance (Liam Neeson’s voice is the perfect combination of melodic and imposing).
Bayona’s visually inventive filmmaking gives glorious form to this deeply moving story about a boy who draws on his expansive imagination to come to terms with impending loss. He brings together members of the award-winning creative team that worked on Pan’s Labyrinth and the film’s level of technical creativity is a sight to behold. The film is abundant with cinematic references, such as the scene where mother and son watch the original King Kong, a model precedent for the animatronics and performance capture that bring to life this film’s profoundly human monster.
A Monster Calls was 2016’s BFI London Film Festival The May Fair Hotel Gala
A Monster Calls is available on BFI Player, here.