Laura (BELEN RUEDA) has moved into, and is in the process of renovating, the very orphanage that she called home for some time as a child. Along with her practical husband Carlos (FERNANDO CAYO) and adopted child Simon (ROGER PRINCEP) she means to create a place like the one she remembers, a place full of laughing children who spend their days playing games and their nights imagining themselves protected by a nearby lighthouse. Laura is unfortunate enough to slowly learn throughout the course of JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA’s THE ORPHANAGE that her pristine recollections are sorely one sided and that her beloved residence hides a history of (kinder)traumatic events she could hardly imagine. Things appear kosher enough at first with her child seemingly conjuring play pals to keep himself company, but does little Simon have his head in the clouds or his foot in the afterlife? Evidence supporting the latter accumulates to the point where Simon goes missing completely and Laura begins seeing a mysterious child on the grounds wearing a Raggedy Andy meets THE ELEPHANT MAN sack over his head. Concern gives way to obsession as Laura is led like a pull toy through a psychological maze that can only be navigated by shredding everything rational and allowing herself to perceive the world in Simon’s (and her own previous) childlike way. More dark fantasy than outright horror, THE ORPHANGE plays tag with classic ghost story elements while always remaining slickly modern. It has no intention of beating the audience over the head with its shocks, it is content to unnerve at the leisurely pace of a midnight tide (MTV spawn & A.D.D. dudes, you stand warned!) Screenwriter SERGIO G. SANCHEZ admits to being inspired by the maternal anguish that Wendy and her sibling’s mother must have felt in PETER PAN when she discovers her children are missing and off adventuring in Neverland. It’s just that kind of magical fairy tale quality that distinguishes THE ORPHANAGE from your standard shock generator. This puzzle box may not provide constant adrenaline pumping cathartic thrills, but it does provide a wise meditation on how perception rules our lives and the constant tug of war between our past and present selves. By the film’s conclusion a new idea of “home” is established and the viewer is left with a feeling similar to completing a good satisfying book. Bathed in cool aquatic hues, its lullaby tone allows its moments of true, gritty, well-earned terror to shine all the more and don’t worry, there is terror to be found here. I know it may seem like the world needs another “ghost kid” movie like it needs another wedding themed rom-com, but this is a sincere, nearly seamless, effort that offers new sly gifts with each viewing and reminds you what a well thought out, complete film experience feels like.
- The dark seaside cave, you may imagine you’re seeing things as well
- The witchy Benigna (MONTSERRAT CARULLA) makes a house call
- Our first view of Tomas (OSCAR CASAS) at the animal masked garden party for special children. A perfect playmate for lil’ Jason Voorhees!
- Laura’s tumble into the tub and her wretched hangnail
- Benigna catches the bus!
- Psychic Aurora’s (the great GERALDINE CHAPLIN) painful discovery
- Laura learns the rules of the game, transforms and is invited into Tomas’ “little house”