I saw The Orphanage on the strength of a David and Margaret review. A Spanish supternatural horror film, it follows on the heels of Pan’s Labyrinth: both movies were produced by Guillermo del Toro – which role, it seems, suits him better than that of director, if Hellboy and Blade II are anything to go by – and feature an eerie take on innocence.
After spending her early childhood in an orphanage, Laura (Belen Rueda) grows up to adopt Simon (Roger Princep) with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo). Wanting to open her own home for disabled children, Laura returns to the orphanage of her youth – now empty – and begins to prepare for the arrival of her charges. Simon, ignorant of his adoption, has always been accompanied by invisible friends; but the arrival of an ominous third, Tomas, soon after their arrival, worries Laura.
As Simon begins to show knowledge of things his parents have kept hidden, Laura grows increasingly disturbed and disbelieving, until, on the day her children are due to arrive, Simon vanishes. Frightened by a series of strange occurences within the house, Laura begins a long and desperate search to find her son, distancing herself from Carlos and, in the process, unravelling the secrets of the orphanage.
From the stylised opening credits to the final reveal, The Orphanage doesn’t miss a single beat. Like a Celtic knot or a piece of music, significant ideas are woven seamlessly throughout the narrative, placed so naturally that their reappearance seems more a haunting echo than a deliberate ploy. There is nothing heavy-handed about this film: Laura’s grief and slow spiral towards understanding, the way she is helped (or hindered) by the authorities, the breakdown of her relationship with Carlos – and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer, ghostly presence of the house are all breathtakingly achieved. The music and cinematography combine to create an eerie captivation, while the script and acting are perfectly balanced.
Let’s be clear, however: The Orphanage is a horror film, on which premise it delivers magnificently. Moments of sheer, gut-wrenching terror are juxtaposed against drawn-out tension, violent fright, fey chills, mystery and an ethereal sense of the otherworldly. Although not as downright horrific as The Ring, The Orphanage is certainly of a similar ilk, and will leave you just as breathless. The only snag is its limited release; but for those willing to look beyond mainstream cinema for their kicks, consider this the perfect opportunity.
Easily, The Orphanage is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years, and deserves every accolade it revieves.