ByPaul Donovan, writer at
A jerk with an opinion. An explorer of transgressive cinema. See more things about movies at
Paul Donovan

This multi-layered film symbolizes more than you see on the surface.

1. This is a Guillermo del Toro film, back when he actually directed, and didn’t spend most of his time producing. It’s one of his non-Hollywood Spanish-language films, and one of his best films.

2. It's usually considered a horror movie, but it's not. It's a war drama with a ghost in it. Well, that’s what it is on the surface.

3. It’s set in 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, at an orphanage that takes in boys whose parents are killed in the fighting. A boy named Carlos is abandoned there, and slowly makes friends with the other boys, who are afraid of a ghost that they call “the one who sighs”. Carlos soon encounters this ghost himself.

4. There are subplots with hidden gold, war-time tensions, and conflicting personal relationships.

5. You can take the movie at face value, and it works fine. But it’s really an allegory for more subtle issues. The title of the film, which is discussed only in one small piece of dialogue, has a double meaning which unlocks the deeper layers of the film.

6. The acting is great, especially Fernando Tielve, who plays Carlos, a kid willing to give up his innocence because of his curiosity and open-eyed sense of reality (he had a cameo in del Toro’s later film Pan’s Labyrinth).

7. The ghost boy is a wonderful mix of real actors and digital effects. He’s genuinely creepy.

8. Like most of del Toro’s films, it’s beautiful to watch. There are some amazing scenes and set-pieces.

9. This is a dark fantasy that covers up a more subtle exploration of universal conditions that apply equally well to modern society as to a century-old haunted orphanage. Either way you want to watch it, this movie is worth watching.

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