This movie is about ghosts – ghosts that we commonly know as ghosts, ie the paranormal ones and more importantly its about ghosts of events and betrayed hopes. The setting is in the Spanish Civil war in a town that is Republican but which is under siege by the forces of Franco. An orphanage run by Carmen and Casares, both ardent believers in the revolution, takes care of orphaned children of republican comrades. Both are shown to be brave in the face of mounting despair. We also witness their human fallibilities in their personal lives as we go on in the movie. That makes them very believable and makes them much more brave and heroic in our eyes.
The movie has a fabric that seems to be bordering on tension. There seems to be a feeling that something terrible has happened and is going to happen. There is an air of a mystery that is waiting to be unravelled. Side by side, the lives of the various characters are explored. Each person’s character has a link to the external political scenario – each of them is a product of it one way or the other.
Enter Carlos, who is brought by his republican tutors who have had to flee the area. He soon realizes that there is a mysterious character that haunts the school and discovers slowly that it is a child called Santi who disappeared mysteriously when a bomb fell in the courtyard of the orphanage and embedded itself without exploding. As events progress, Carlos discovers that Santi was murdered.
While Carlos is discovering the mystery one step at a time, the political scenario takes a turn for the worse and the inhabitants prepare to flee but is betrayed and their vehicle sabotaged. Amidst the death and carnage, the boys decide to take revenge. They fight back and also help Santi take revenge on his killer in a dramatic anti-climax.
The movie, when seen beyond the horror/mystery element is multi-layered. It explores human nature under duress, both in personal and external spheres. It explores relationships (Dr Casares-Carmen, the boys, Jacinto-Conchita) and in this this movie is very strong. Every character’s relationship with others is explored and given thought to. Every character is shown in the grey, quite unlike most horror flicks. This gives the movie much more depth and gives it many memorable moments.
One of the most poignant moments is when this poem is read out by Dr Casares to Carmen at the end - “Stay by my side as my light grows dim /as my blood slows down and my nerves shatter with stabbing pain / as my heart grows weak / and the wheels of my being turn slowly / Stay by my side /as my fragile body is racked by pain /which verges on truth / and manic time continues scattering dust / and furious life bursts out in flames. Stay by my side / as I fade / so you can point to the end of my struggle /and the twilight of eternal days / at the low, dark edge of life.” It is these moments that makes the movie truly unforgettable.