The Orphanage (2007)
Laura, a young woman, sets up home at her former Orphanage in an attempt to build a place of refuge for ‘special’ children. Simon, her adopted son (who is also HIV positive), tells her of the imaginary friends he has made – one of whom is a mischievous masked-boy who has told him that he will die soon. Laura initially dismisses such talk as childish fantasy but when Simon disappears, she becomes certain that his imaginary friends are involved and that the Orphanage is harbouring a dark secret.
“The Orphanage” is what used to be called a ‘chiller’ rather than a ‘horror’ movie.
The plot is strong and I liked the parallels with the story of “Peter Pan”. This is a sad and emotional film which needed a strong cast – and gets one. Fernando Cayo is very convincing as the sceptical husband and Montserrat Carulla is immensely creepy as the elderly former-employee with a horrible secret, “Benigna”. Of course, Belen Rueda as “Laura” is the star of the show, putting in a shockingly empathetic performance of a woman hurdling towards grief-induced insanity.
The film looks great and the setting of the Orphanage on the coast allows for some nice touches to an already startling cinematography. There are welcome nods to the haunted-house movies of the past. We have an intriguing team of paranormal researchers, reminiscent of the group from “Poltergeist” (1982) and there are murmurs of Peter Medak’s excellent ghost story “The Changeling” (1980) throughout the film.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona resists temptation and doesn’t descend into pushing the film as a cheap-shock thrill ride – there are no “House on Haunted Hill”-type gimmicks to be found in this movie. Bayona never quite pulls the trigger on the audience – all the more impressive given this is his first feature-film – and the end result leaves the viewer in a sheer sweat of anticipation with some sequences almost unbearable to watch. For the first time in a while, I was actually wanting to look away from the screen.
Bayona also manages to keep the audience interested in the storyline , which is not just an excuse for either some ‘scary goings-on’ or the advertisement of technical skill with a camera. The script is genuinely enticing and we become interested as to why young Simon has disappeared and what exactly happened at the Orphanage all those years ago. The final third of the film unravels the mystery in a convincing and unsettling way, although there are some questions which are intentionally left unanswered. Nevertheless, the revelation at the end of the movie is quite sickening, so if you cry easily, make sure you have some tissues at hand.
Overall, a mighty haunted-house movie, which unfortunately is an all too-rare occurrence nowadays.
Note: “The Orphanage” is in Spanish with English subtitles.
hotdog rating: 8.5/10
PS (contains spoilers): Personally, I found that this film reminded me heavily of some of the themes (mother’s revenge) and images (the mask on the deformed child) of Friday 13th Parts 1 and 2. If anyone else thought this, please do comment on this post. Am I going crazy>?