It's incredible how far technology has come, I'm old enough to remember a time before VHS, when you had to watch whatever the few channels were playing. For this film, I laid in bed with my laptop and played it online via Netflix. Now there are sites like Hulu.com, where you can watch hundreds of movies and TV shows for free, instantly. The overwhelming amount of choices can drive me nuts sometimes, that's why I still prefer to watch movies "the old fashion way" on DVD on my TV. But knowing those choices are there, make me happy. This has absolutely nothing to do with The Orphanage, it was the first time I'd watched an entire film online, I wanted to see the film badly, my queue said "very long wait", they had it available online, so there I was. On to the review...
Over the last decade I've really started to appreciate foreign horror films, I think many countries filmmakers have a better grasp on how to actually scare you, than most American filmmakers. Japanese films in particular get to me. I remember the first time I saw Ringu aka The Ring, when that girl crawled out of the TV, my body nearly crawled out of my skin. The Spanish also seem to have a good idea of how to scare people, so when Guillermo del Toro presents, a highly praised ghost film, I'm there. Rare is the film that can actually scare me these days, and for some twisted reason I relish those movies. It brings me back to the sleepless nights of my youth, imagining all kinds of horrific things crawling through the dark to get me. It's a safe way to experience a taste of death.
The Orphanage, has some wonderfully creepy moments. For the average viewer, I think it'll work wonders. It gave me a couple of chills, but I was hoping for more. In all honesty, I wouldn't necessarily call this a horror film. It certainly has the right elements, and in a lesser filmmaker's hands that's all it would be, but the film is so beautifully crafted, that it comes across as more of a tragedy-drama.
Laura, played perfectly by actress Belén Rueda, is a young mother, who has ambitions to open a home for children with special needs. Along with her husband, they buy a large house near the sea, where she once lived as an orphan. On the day they open the house to the children and their families, her young son Simón goes missing. Before this happens, Simón had been talking too what his parents considered his imaginary friends.
After Simón disappears, the imaginary friends start to prove themselves real. They begin to reach out to Laura, asking her for help, and trying to show her the way back to her son. There's one particularly creepy kid, who wears a bag over his head, painted up to look like a face. He gets most of the chills in the film. But ultimately the ghost kids aren't that scary to Laura, her pain of losing Simón is far worse than anything they can dish out, and eventually she begins to understand what they're telling her.
The moment Laura stops being scared, it loses a lot of effect for the audience, if the characters aren't scared, then why should we be? That's not a detriment to the film. The Orphanage still has a few moments of terror, but it's Laura's soul-crushing pain that drives the film. There's a mystery surrounding the orphanage and what happened to the orphans, that she believes will lead her to her son, she doesn't care what poltergeists stand in her way.
It's an incredibly powerful film, beautifully crafted in every way; great performances, wonderful photography, and perfectly directed. Director Juan Antonio Bayona, proves to be an incredible talent. No matter the genre, I can't wait to see what he does next. - Grade: A