A ghost story. A simple one at that. The Orphanage may be just another haunting story, but it’s one that, like the best of the bunch, manages to forego cheap thrills and dig into the inner core of human emotion. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos), this Spanish horror flick is thoroughly engrossing and will cause the little hairs on the back of your neck and arms to rise. If you were to compare it similar films within the horror spectrum The Orphanage plays nicely with a familiar friend – The Others.
The plot centers on Laura (Belen Rueda), who brings her family back to her childhood home, an old orphanage. Along with her husband, Carlos, and her son, Simon, she plans on fixing up the place and turning it into a home for disabled kids. Of course, that sounds all nice and dandy, but there is one little problem. Simon has made a bunch of new friends. Normally a good thing, but these friends happened to be the ghosts from the orphanage’s mysterious past. After Simon goes missing, Laura begins a quest to find her son and soon is overwhelmed by clues – both of the ordinary and supernatural variety.
In his first feature film Director Jaun Antonio Bayona does something that few in horror ever seem to get right. He makes the audience and the characters wait. And wait. And wait. The sheer amount of dread and suspense in this film is mind-boggling. No black cats leap out, and there are no fake scares that allow the audience to laugh at themselves or catch their breath. Every camera angle and shot is expertly crafted to build suspense; Most of the achingly long slow push-in variety. Even when you expect things to go bump often nothing happens. Of course, that makes the tension even higher.
We are in Laura’s head and experiencing everything just as she is; putting the pieces together along with her. The question being: Is Laura crazy or not? Rueda’s performance as the grief stricken mother is astounding. Even though the film is in a language I don’t speak yet, you can literally feel the gut-wrenching heartache she experiences upon Simon’s disappearance. Throughout the film, her every look and emotion is so well conveyed that I honestly forgot I was reading the subtitles.
The performance of Rueda along with the stylistic approach and tension building allows The Orphanage to overcome the tropes of the genre. Yes, there is a random psychic who comes to the house. Yes, the husband is a bit of a doubting Thomas. And while fans of the genre have seen all of those things before, here they are done with careful consideration to avoid clichés. Another sign of superior filmmaking.
By the time the film’s conclusion rolls around we are left with many emotions. Your heart is bound to break, heal, and be broken again during the running time. Don’t be surprised if some who watch this are in tears. But, being able to finally relax may be the biggest relief of all.
An absolute first-rate haunting flick that manages to draw you in, scare you to death, and forces you to feel those pesky things called emotions.
Snore Factor: Z