On the back of "Cronos" and "Mimic", Guillermo del Toro has emerged as one of the horror genre's most striking new talents. "The Devil's Backbone" (El Espinazo del Diablo) may be more conventional than its forebears, but it's still a superior ghost story/murder mystery which confirms del Toro as a name to watch (his next movie will be "Blade 2").
Set in a school-cum-orphanage at the end of the Spanish Civil War, the movie begins as a childhood rite-of-passage for ten-year-old Carlos (Tielve) before spiralling into a "Shining"-style spook fest.
Although the orphanage lies on a remote and dusty plateau far away from the frontline, the threat and dread of war is omnipresent - not least due to the huge unexploded bomb that sits reproachfully in the middle of the courtyard.
Carlos' life is hardly made easier by the bullying Jaime (Garcés) and the school's menacing janitor, Jacinto (Noriega). But things get even more threatening when Carlos begins seeing the pale spectre of Santi (Valverde), a fellow orphan who was brutally murdered shortly before his arrival.
Cleverly lacing its chilling melodrama with a political twist - with Jacinto's brooding rage implicitly equated with the fascist oppressor - "The Devil's Backbone" reverses expectations by telling its doom-laden Gothic narrative in broad daylight and baking sunshine. The climax is a little disappointing, and the glowering Noriega is really too handsome to pose much of a threat. Unlike most so-called thrillers, though, this is one "Backbone" that's guaranteed to send a shiver down yours.
In Spanish with English subtitles.