The Orphanage (El Orfanato) 2007


The Orphanage (El Orfanato) (2007) Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

Remember the last time you were scared? Like, properly terrified, panting for breath in fear of the next horror to pop up onscreen? I mean, in exchange of, say, laughing your ass off at the stupidity and ott-ness of all the violence befalling characters who, like, rilly deserved it anyway.

All right, there WAS a movie that accomplished this. In 2005, the Descent (Dir. Neil Marshal) gave horror a wake-up call. It was fast, brutal and big on yoinking genuine screams from the audience. Awesome.

In the other extreme is the creepiness that makes your heart actually pound, your breath shorten. Sweating in anticipation of the worst, you really, really don’t want bad things to happen to the characters. Dread permeates every frame. Fear is borne from actual emotion – and the icing on the top?

It makes you think.

While I can more-than happily enjoy the gorefests by Eli Roth, the Orphanage is a freak-you-out ghost story with a lot more to it. It plays on our worst fears – losing your child is an emotion difficult to be cynical about, and this film uses it chillingly but never, ever sells it cheaply. On this thread it draws comparisons to the magnificent Don’t Look Now and resonates powerfully with the harrowing, real-life case of missing Maddie.

In brief – Laura (Belen Rueda) lived in an orphanage by the sea, until a couple adopted her. Many years later, she returns to reopen the place as a home for young children, along with her adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep) and her heavy-sleeping husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo). Simon is playful and imaginative, and she protects him from his fear of the dark with stories and games. Soon he’s making friends with little boys in caves. Then one day, he vanishes entirely. Anguished but determined, Laura strives to find him, no matter what awful truths she uncovers on her journey.

The film never shies from the reality of the missing child situation, but it also keeps the ghostly gloom at full pressure throughout. Initially I was concerned that it wouldn’t manage to creep me out at all. It doesn’t take long, though, for the tension to build into a scary, but very satisfying story. I cannot recommend this highly enough, especially in a if you watch with many other people hugging one another in the dark. Brave your fear of subtitles (I hear this can put people off a movie – so the remakes are your fault!) , and go along before THIS gets remade starring Jennifer Connelly and one of the Dakota Fanning kids.

Oh, and it was produced and helped along in no small way by Guillermo del Toro. Surely that’s recommendation enough? All on its own, this heart-wrenching tale of terror deserves to be a brilliant hit.

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