unprepossessing Spanish horror thriller, presented by Guillermo
Del Toro, snuck into the Spectrum 8 Theatres a month ago with
two showings per day and a “one week only” notice on the poster
(and in the print ads). It’s still there, running daily in
the late afternoon and late evening—and it will be there for
another week, at least.
always heartening when an unheralded film finds its audience,
and The Orphanage is more than worthy of the attention.
Orphanage begins with a flashback. A group of children
are playing tag in front of the gloomy mansion that is the
title institution; one, named Laura, is to be adopted and
is called away from the others. Flash-forward three decades:
Now the all-grown-up Laura (Belén Rueda) and her doctor-husband
Carlos (Fernando Cayo) move into the renovated former orphanage
with their too-cute young son Simón (Roger Princep). The idea
is to turn it into a home for a small group of special-needs
for the family, the mansion already has a full complement
of special-needs children. Dead children.
builds slowly as Laura and her son explore the beachside caves
not far from the mansion. Mom is only slightly troubled when
her son—a lonely kid with an overactive imagination—adds to
his coterie of imaginary friends. Director Juan Antonio Bayona
uses every trick in the haunted-house-flick book, filling
the screen with shadows, teasing us with just-off-screen movement
and tormenting the characters with strange noises and horrific
screams. He’s not shy about gory violence in this part of
the film, either, or introducing stock characters, like, for
instance, a crazy old woman hiding in the orphanage’s former
crematorium. There’s no irony or comedy in any of it, however—in
fact there’s dramatic depth, as the strained personal dynamics
in the less-than-perfect family build alongside the supernatural
terrors. The cumulative effect is scary as hell. You will
squirm in your seat.
everything comes to a tragic climax on the day Laura and Carlos
are opening the house to the special-needs kids. The atmosphere
is deliciously creepy, as the visiting kids put on masks and
play—though one of the “visitors” isn’t from out of town.
Bayona’s swirling camera and deft editing serve to both disorient
and misdirect the audience’s attention.
layers upon mystery, and Laura begins to look for answers
in the paranormal. (Geraldine Chaplin is affecting as a dead-serious
medium.) Saying one word more about the story would be one
too many. The less you know, the more you’ll enjoy the picture.
Suffice it to say that the plot is brilliantly worked out
to the last detail, betraying neither the supernatural nor
as with the last scene in producer Del Toro’s Pan’s Laby-rinth,
you will be a stronger person than I if the ending of The
Orphanage doesn’t choke you up.