Juan Antonio Bayona
Belen Rueda - Laura
Fernando Cayo - Carlos
Roger Princep - Simon
Geraldine Chaplin - Aurora
Benigna - Montserrat Carulla
Genre - Horror/Ghosts
Running Time - 105 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
THE ORPHANAGE is a Guillermo Del Toro produced Spanish ghost story. Laura (Belen Rueda) grew up at an orphange until she was adopted when she was seven-years-old. About thirty years pass, bringing Laura back at the orphange as she's bought it to turn it into a home for children who have special needs. She also plans to live there with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and her young son Simon (Roger Princep), hoping the kids that come there will befriend him. Apparently, Laura is concerned about Simon's penchant for having imaginary friends, who seem to enjoy treasure hunts. As Simon continues to live at the orphanage, he exhibits strange behavior. He becomes more erratic and even learns the truth about who he really is when it concerns Laura and Carlos.
During a masquerade party that's been prepared to welcome all the children who will live at the orphange, Simon fights with Laura. Laura also deals with a child whose head is covered with a sack. This mysterious child injures Laura, making Laura wonder who this child is. Coincidentally, Simon goes missing - not appearing again for months. Carlos assumes Simon is dead, but Laura doesn't give up searching for him. With the help of a ghost whisperer, Laura is convinced that Simon's imaginary friends have him somewhere inside the orphanage. The only way for Laura to confirm her suspicions is to go back in time to see what really happened at the place she once called home.
THE ORPHANAGE is a character driven, emotionally charged, beautifully suspenseful horror film that's a rarity in modern times. Taking the story of "Peter Pan" and giving it a horrific new meaning creates a brilliantly crafted ghost story that leads to a satisfying, yet bittersweet, conclusion. It's not a scary film but it's definitely a chilling one. It plays more like a mystery, making us wonder if Simon really does have imaginary friends, or these friends are from another world [the afterlife] we still have yet to understand. There's no exposition here and the script doesn't make things complicated by throwing in random things to satisfy mainstream audiences that could hamper the film. It's straightforward and tells the story the way it's meant to be told - slow, mysterious, and simple. Honestly, I saw THE ORPHANAGE for more than just a ghost tale. I saw it as a journey from skepticism to finding one's faith in things beyond our visual spectrum to not only find her son, but to find herself as well. I will say that the story isn't as in your face as in PAN'S LABYRINTH [which Del Toro did direct], which might turn off some people. But THE ORPHANAGE is a great story in a totally different way if you give it a chance.
Juan Antonio Bayona directs THE ORPHANAGE beautifully. Hell, I thought it was really Guillermo Del Toro who directed this film, but I was surprised when I learned it wasn't. It was a very confident style of directing, where Bayona had no trouble adding in tons of mood, atmosphere, and gloominess to create a dim and downbeat film. There's no flashy editing or a soundtrack to overwhelmed the quietness of the film. Bayona naturally lets the story speak for itself, creating a natural and organic feel. For Bayona's first full-length theatrical debut, he hits one out of the park. Very professional work.
The acting was exceptional in this film. Belen Rueda carried the film like a pro as Laura. She was strong, yet vulnerable - never falling into stereotypical cliches of each one. Her facial expressions and body language told a huge story throughout the film, convincing us that she was haunted by something from beginning to end. When she starts to lose it towards the end once she realizes that there are forces at work inside the orphanage, we question her sanity. Does she really believe in ghosts? Or is she so desperate to find her son that she'll believe in anything to deny herself of the truth? Rueda brought a lot of credibility to her role and I was with her all the way. Fernando Cayo pretty much took a nothing role as the supportive husband and gave it depth. He was the skeptic of the film and we can understand why he would be. Roger Princep was one of those rare child actors that doesn't annoy you at all. He is believable and extremely wise in his performance. And Geraldine Chaplin was more than fine as the medium to convinces Laura of the spirits inside the orphanage. I totally bought it.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE ORPHANAGE is a must see for anyone who enjoys a great ghost story with a lot of heart, soul, and intelligence. It may turn some people off because it's in Spanish and subtitles may have to be used to understand the film. But I think it's definitely worth it to enjoy such a chilling and moving film. And the fact that THE ORPHANAGE made me tear up at the end gets a high recommendation from yours truly. Check it out if you haven't done so.