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Guillermo Del Toro’s elegant and chilling ghost story is set in 1939, during the Spanish Civil War, with a defused bomb from Franco’s troops 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’. A horrifically presented ghost, surrounded by a shroud of blood and water, Santi is gentle in his haunting of Carlos, warning of upcoming dangers. Threat comes from the living in this supernatural story.
Long before his blockbuster successes, Del Toro returned to Spanish-language filmmaking following his first, unsuccessful Hollywood excursion (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.