Between making Mimic and Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak) co-wrote and directed this creepy piece of horror in a 1930s Spanish orphanage. It is loaded with trademark elements of del Toro (underground venues, visually disturbing images, odd characters). Backbone sits somewhere between classic and modern horror films in its approach. It is much more loaded with suspense than gore, but it also tackles subjects that are disturbingly human. The visual metaphor of the unexploded bomb is also a fascinating bit of understated drama and comment.
The Criterion disc is filled with extras. Perhaps the most intriguing bit of information was the guidance from del Toro that Backbone was intended as a companion piece for Pan’s Labyrinth. There is a certain visual synergy between the two, though the later film was so strongly influenced by his Hellboy efforts that it is leaps ahead in the production design. But the essentials of the effects of war on children remain a constant.
If you’re looking for a del Toro you’ve missed or are in need of a quieter form of horror in counterpoint to most of what’s out there now, this could fill the bill. It isn’t his best, or even his most entertaining from that time period, but it is solid and, with Pan’s an interesting set of commentaries.