January 11, 2008
Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay)
Belén Rueda as Laura
Fernando Cayo as Carlos
Roger Príncep as Simón
Mabel Rivera as Pilar
Montserrat Carulla as Benigna
By Horror Queen
The Orphanage has it all, from the unique storyline to the superb acting to the most important element – and ironically what is missing from much of modern day horror – sheer spine-chilling terror that is slow and deliberate, versus overtly shocking and violent.
The film is set in Spain, in a former Orphanage turned private mansion, complete with the haunting roar of the nearby sea and eerie abandoned lighthouse on the bluffs. The owners are Carlos and his wife Laura, a former orphan that had lived in the house as a child and has now returned with her husband and their own adopted orphan son, Simon with the hopes of turning the mansion into a home for disabled children. That is until she finds there are already several children among them – and not necessarily the living breathing kind. When Simon speaks of his imaginary friends, Carlos and Laura convince themselves it’s just a childhood phase. Until Laura goes face to face with the undead, right before her own son goes missing. And the search for Simon begins…
The story unfolds in a fascinating way, with each scene precisely crafted to leave us clenched in fear. Not since The Shining have I experienced this type of suspenseful awe, with similar grandiose scenery and masterful musical score, juxtaposed against the gnawing anticipation of doom. Director Juan Antonio Bayona creates images that soothe us – Simon picking up seashells on the beach, cheerful children playing hide and seek in the garden – and then sends chills up our spine with a horrific portrayal of a child in a burlap mask standing at the end of a long hallway or a mysterious elderly woman who appears out of no where. It’s not that these characters are particularly grotesque, in fact the film is light on gore compared to today’s Saw or Hostel series. It’s more about fear of the unknown versus what is right in our face.
Throughout the film, Laura remains determined to find Simon. Does she? Let’s just say when you’re busy dragging the ocean and searching your house from top to bottom to find a child, do not forget to check the basement. Oops. Another important lesson to be gleaned here is if your out-of-sorts wife asks you to leave her alone in the house she is convinced is haunted, do it and you will not be winning any husband of the year awards.
The Orphanage is indeed brilliant and as creepy as they get.