When he found out how much we liked Pan's Labyrinth, our friend Curt suggested we watch its brother-film, Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001). It is another horror story set in the Spanish Civil War, but the orphan in this story is a young boy.
He is delivered to an isolated orphanage by Republican fighters who don't even tell him his father is dead. He doesn't seem too thrilled to be there, but is fascinated by the unexploded bomb in the middle of the orphanage courtyard. That's not the only unexploded ordinance around either. Soon, he is confronted by a vision of a drowned boy that no one will talk about.
Conditions in the orphanage are rough, with barely enough food to go around, and no way to buy more. It's run by a noble old scholar and his bitter, one-legged wife, with the aid of a dangerously handsome young man. The war, which the Republicans are losing, is on all of their minds. But the children are more concerned about each other and the ghost.
Once again, we find a child confronted by great evils - a world of ghosts and spirits, and the greater evils of the war. The movie has many moods, but mostly spread between quiet and noisy terror. The ghost story is very satisfying, but there are no happy endings.
Both of these stories reminded me of the desperation and surrealism of the Spanish New Wave cinema - in particular, Spirit of the Beehive. We got that from Netflix as well, but the disc was shattered on arrival. Hope to have that review for you soon.