AKA: El Orfanato
After being adopted from an orphanage 30-years ago, Laura returns to the now closed facility with her husband and son, with the hopes of re-opening the orphanage for disabled children. She’s initially excited by the prospects, but she quickly comes to regret her decision, as outside forces seemingly cause her life to spiral. Not long after arriving at the facility, Laura’s son, Simón, starts telling her stories of his new friend Tomás, a boy who Simon only depicts in drawings with a sack over his head. Not long after that, a Social Worker shows up inquiring about Simón, his adoption, and his HIV status. Incensed by the woman’s intrusion, Laura chases her off, but later finds her snooping around the property. Nosy women and imaginary friends may be one thing, but things quickly take a darker turn when Simón disappears during the orphanage’s grand opening party. The police suspect that the errant Social Worker may have abducted the boy, but turn up nothing. After months of investigations into Simón’s disappearance, Laura’s son has yet to be found, but Laura and the police do uncover some disturbing revelations from the orphanage’s past that may be they key to solving his case.
I really liked The Orphanage, it’s not at all surprising that I would, because although he didn’t make it, Guillermo del Toro had a hand in the film’s production and he usually doesn’t associate himself with film’s that suck. Directed by J. A. Bayona in his directorial feature film debut, The Orphanage has some good shock effects, but is the kind of film that doesn’t fall into the territory of only trying to use cheap thrills. I think I’ve mentioned before, that I appreciate some subtlety in my horror films, and I feel this one falls into that category. CGI, when present, is kept to a minimum, so there are no instances of jerky ghosts. Thank goodness.
One of the nicest things about this movie is it’s excellent use of atmosphere. Shots linger, focusing on where you are and letting you get a real feel for it. Color is used appropriately, mostly muted in tone, especially later in the film, with splashes of bright hues added for emphasis. It’s all appropriately dark and dreary, fitting of the subject matter.
Another nice thing about this movie is that the characters are fleshed out so that you actually feel sympathy for them. Roger Príncep, who plays Simón, is an adorable little kid that you can actually sympathize with, and Belén Rueda in particular, who plays the mother Laura, is just excellent. I could have turned the subtitles off and still felt for that woman. Her husband Carlos on the other hand…. not so much. In fact, he’s pretty ‘dull’ for comparison’s sake, but Príncep and Rueda are the main participants here, so his not living up to the other cast is only a minor point.
After watching it, I don’t know if I’d go so far to call The Orphanage a straight horror movie though. The movie focuses on Laura and her grief, more than the mystery of the house and any potential spirits that may or may not inhabit it. So it almost feels more like an intensely dark psychological drama. Still, even if I feel it’s a bit limited in the horror aspects, I still feel it’s one of the better ghost stories I’ve seen in quite a while. So if you or anyone you know enjoys a good ghost story and/or haunted house (or in this case, orphanage) tale, then feel free to give this one a try.
On a side note, I’ve read they’re planning on making a remake, possibly starring Amy Adams. But the most recent bit of info I’ve been able to find about that, seems to have stopped sometime around 2011. So if you’re hoping for an Americanized version of the film, I wouldn’t hold my breath about it, because as of now the film seems to be stuck in a development miasma.
The Orphanage is available on a variety of streaming services.
The Orphanage is also available on DVD and Bluray.