Movie Review for The Orphanage (2007)

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Review #597 of 365
Movie Review of The Orphanage (2008) [R] 100 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.75
Where Viewed: Harkins Ciné Capri at Northfield 18, Denver, CO
When Seen: 11 January 2008
Time: 2:15 pm
DVD Release Date: 22 April 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona (10 años con Camela)
Screenplay by: Sergio G. Sánchez (Temporada baja)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Belén Rueda (Savage Grace) • Fernando Cayo (Concursante) • Roger Príncep ("Monstruo del pozo, El") • Mabel Rivera (Goya's Ghosts) • Montserrat Carulla (Mariposa negra) • Óscar Casas (53 días de invierno) • Mireia Renau (debut) • Georgina Avellaneda (debut) • Carla Gordillo Alicia (debut) • Alejandro Campos (Último Alevare, El) • Carmen López (16 Blocks) • Óscar Lara (Amor a la medida ) • Geraldine Chaplin (BloodRayne)

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Juan Antonio Bayona's El Orfanato (The Orphanage) is more reminiscent of Nicole Kidman's The Others than Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, still, the film is an exceptionally good and well-made scary ghost movie. Featuring the lead talent of Spanish actress Belén Rueda as Laura, the mother of an adopted, HIV+ boy named Simón (oger Príncep), she and her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), have just purchased and moved into an enormous mansion-style old home with a storied history—namely, it used to be the orphanage where Laura resided as a child until she was adopted. Sadly, she was one of the few to leave as the others, generally either too old or possessing various physical differences thought to be challenging for adoptive parents to handle at the time. Excited to be adopting as many as five or six more children to give them a stable family unit, Laura and Carlos, a physician, are embarking on the fulfillment of one of her life-long dreams. Yet, no sooner does the family move in then, of course, some unexplained things start to happen. Simón, who already has a history of imaginary friends, meets someone new named Tomás in a cave near the lighthouse on the point a short distance from their home.

…one of the best scary movies and international films of the year.
The encounter seems so real to Laura she begins to wonder about Simón's imaginary friends. He draws pictures that are so imaginative as to be cause for concern. Simón claims that Tomás is real. A short time later, the residence is paid a visit by a woman claiming to be a social worker named Benigna (Montserrat Carulla). The mysterious elder woman with thick glasses has Simón's case file and claims she want to check up on him, possibly to mention a new course of treatment for his disease. Her demeanor and nervous habits present Laura with cause for alarm, and she shoos the woman away. That evening, she hears noises in the yard and goes to investigate. She finds Benigna grasping a shovel, but the woman runs off into the woods. An all out search of the grounds yields no clues. Meanwhile, Simón delves deeper into his fantasy friends. He invites Laura to play a game with him set up by Tomás. It is similar to a treasure hunt with objects hidden that lead to locations of new objects. If he finds his special coins at the end, the children have promised him a wish. Laura plays along, but she cannot imagine how he could have executed this chain of clues without help. The final clue leads them to the kitchen drawer where she has locked in Simón's case file. He opens the drawer before she can stop him and the case file spills out. She's furious as she doesn't want him to learn that he is adopted nor that he has HIV. He's not paying attention to the file, only the treasure inside the drawer, but she still screams at him. He unleashes his wrath back claiming that Tomás told him she's not his real mother. A few days later, at the welcoming party for the new children, Simón refuses to come down and join the party. Laura is so angered, she slaps him and tells him he doesn't have to come down. All he wants is for her to come see Tomás' little house he's found. His tantrum does not please her, and she leaves him. Later, she sees Tomás down the hall wearing a strange, sack-like mask with an eye-hole cut and a button sewn on where the other eye would be. He frightens her and she runs down the hall to escape. He shuts her hand in the bathroom door, and once inside, he locks her in. Bleeding from the hand, eventually Carlos frees her by prying the door open. She explains what happened, but no one has seen a kid in the mask she describes. It then becomes apparent that Simón is missing. They start to look for him everywhere. She hears some rumbling under the stairs and opens the little closet. Some heavy metal poles fall out, and there's no sign of him inside, so she packs them back in and shuts it. She runs as far as the lighthouse and the caves nearby; but, eventually, Carlos has to drag her home. Simón is nowhere to be found.

The excellent set-up provides spine-tingling chills as the mystery deepens and more is learned about Benigna, Tomás, and the fate of the other orphans. Laura will have to solve the mystery in order to find Simón. Sergio G. Sánchez's screenplay is fraught with twist and turns, most of them quite tragic. The story leaves some areas open-ended for one could interpret the story as either being actual ghostly events or one, desperate mother's plunge into insanity over the disappearance of her child. Juan Antonio Bayona presents a decisive horror masterpiece that will have you guessing and hoping along with Laura that she will get to the bottom of it. Yet, be prepared for a shocking series of sad revelations. As far as the acting goes, this is Belén Rueda's show. Everything hinges on her performance, and she's quite brilliant. Emotionally, she's got Laura dead on from the very beginning. How could Laura have ever thought this was a good idea to return to the orphanage? Yet, she moves through time assured that with her heart in the right place all will be fine. She could not know the terrible tragedies that occurred after she left, and this juxtaposed with the knowledge that she too would have been a party to them had she not been adopted amplifies the tragedy of the story. The youngster, Roger Príncep, with his curly locks delivers an exceptional performance as well as Simón. The rest of the characters, however, lack depth. Even Carlos is too wooden. It's difficult to imagine the choices he makes in the end—perhaps the only real character flaw in the film. The story smacks a bit of The Sixth Sense as well. Non-native speakers of Spanish will find the subtitles are well done in this film making it easy to keep up with the dialogue and the visual aspects of the film. The film relies on story more than special effects wizardry to create the dramatic tension. In this aspect, the film soars. Much like some of the greatest scares in the granddaddy of all ghost stories, Poltergeist, where a table full of stacked chairs stills stands out as one of the most stupefying scares of time, here, it's stacks of sea shells. With a mythology that borrows a bit from Japanese ghost stories, while adding its own layers of new mythology, The Orphanage delivers its own brand of fright. Again, it's not quite on the same level as 2006's Pan's Labyrinth because it lacks the political overtones of the times that elevated that film to the status as one of the year's best films, still it's one of the best scary movies and international films of the year.

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring The Orphanage (2007)
Cast Members
Belén RuedaFernando CayoRoger Príncep
Mabel RiveraMontserrat CarullaÓscar Casas
Mireia RenauGeorgina AvellanedaCarla Gordillo Alicia
Alejandro CamposÓscar Lara
Juan Antonio Bayona
Sergio G. Sánchez

Review-lite The Orphanage (2007) [max of 150 words]
Juan Antonio Bayona's El Orfanato (The Orphanage) is more reminiscent of Nicole Kidman's The Others than Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, still, the film is an exceptionally good and well-made scary ghost movie. Featuring the talent of Spanish actress Belén Rueda, the story focuses on the mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of a couple's adopted son, Simón who goes missing one day at a party they are hosting for more children they intend to adopt. Part ghost story, part tragic mystery, Sergio G. Sánchez's screenplay provided bone-tingling scares making this one of the best scary movies and international films of the year.

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