A few years ago, The Others surprised audiences with a tragically creepy ghost story, a rare feat in this day and age. Jump ahead to 2007/2008 (depending on what country you live in), apply the Spanish language to the same movie and you have The Orphanage, an equally spooky ghost thriller. Though Guillermo Del Toro "presented the film" for marketing purposes, the movie thankfully lives up to his name for the most part.
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, The Orphanage is about a small family that moves into a house that was once an orphanage. As time goes on, the young son adopts an imaginary friend - but just how imaginary is the child really? After an attack by a masked child thought to be dead for years, the mother (Belén Rueda) comes to the realization that her own child has gone missing. As clues fail to surface, she resorts to her own methods to find her child, including looking into the tragic past of the home. Is someone responsible, or is the threat a much more supernatural one?
In all fairness, The Orphanage's plot isn't too close to that of The Others, but thematically there are a lot of similarities. The movie is about a mother trying to protect her child, the spookiness pretty much resides within the confines of an old house and, most importantly, the use of environmental sound is almost identical. If you can recall, The Others relied heavily on sound to make things scary, not the sudden crash of instruments cheap horror movies use to scare the audience when a killer jumps out from around a corner but rather highly disturbing sound effects to make the house a living, breathing entity in its own right. The Orphanage employs the same techniques to scare the crap out of you; I don't scare easily, but, while watching the film late at night in an empty apartment, I had to turn the volume down to keep from creeping myself out. The sound effects are brilliant.
The movie itself is pretty intriguing. Of course, if you've seen one ghost movie you've seen them all, but The Orphanage does as good of job as any to be unique. Writer Sergio G. Sánchez does an excellent job of blending supernatural mystery with real world believability. The plot interweaves the two rather seamlessly, and Sánchez relays the mother's helplessness and determination to the audience in an authentic way. Furthermore, Bayona does a good job in the director's chair.
The Orphanage does fall apart a little bit at the end. I do like one twist the movie makes, but then it goes a little farther. I didn't buy into the last couple minutes that much, though the way the film ends clearly has European influences. At least the studio didn't change the ending as was done to The Descent.
The Orphanage is not without its flaws, but it's a creepy and at times scary ghost story. It's rare to get a good supernatural movie these days, but The Orphanage exceeds expectations.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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