Starring: Belén Rueda, Sergio G. Sanchez, Fernando Cayo
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Genre: Paranormal Suspense; Horror
I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly what you call cultured. Mind you, I'm couth enough to refrain from biting my toenails, but that's also a flexibility issue. As such, I have no authority on Spanish horror--or other international platforms--I only know what I like. One of the things I like from horror films, to the point where it may be more of a guilty pleasure, is the "creepy kid" that may or may not be the epitome of evil. The Orphanage has one of those creepy kids, wearing a burlap sack as a mask no less.
But the movie has a lot more going for it than that.
The movie deals with a wife and mother, Laura, who moves into an house by the sea that was once the orphanage in which she was raised. With her are her husband, Carlos, and their seven-year-old son, Simon. Simon is adopted and has HIV, two secrets kept from him by Laura and Carlos for reasons that kind of flew over my head in the course of the movie--didn't hurt the overall experience, though. To help give her son some kids to keep him company, she's converting the former orphanage into a facility for a small group of special needs kids--a plan that falls apart as soon as it starts.
The family no sooner moves in when Laura is visited by an elderly woman claiming to be a local social worker concerned about Simon's welfare. Suspicions about the old woman's validity escalate when Laura sees her skulking around the property late at night, chasing her off and informing the local authorities. Soon afterwards, Simon develops an imaginary friend named Tomas in a cave along the beach while he and Laura are out for a walk. Except, of course, it's not likely to be an imaginary friend, since we soon discover that the old woman had a son who died on the premises. His name was Tomas. Spooky? Sure, but it gets better.
The creepy atmosphere gets ramped up when Laura invites her perspective students to a costume party. Simon wants no part of it, as his relationship with Tomas has intensified and led him to discover both his disease and his adoption, which causes a rift between he and Laura. Then when a strange, costumed boy--complete with a creepy burlap sack for a mask--appears at the party, Simon goes missing.
What follows is probably one of the best haunted house movies I've seen in years. I think the last time I enjoyed a haunted house movie this much was when Nicole Kidman turned out an admirable performance in The Others. And I dare say The Orphanage is better than The Others. The tone is pitch perfect throughout the film and the ending, which I dare not spoil, is a balance of sadness and redemption.
For the xenophobes, beware, as there are subtitles. I can't imagine the movie would be as effective with English dubbed over the performances. For a film this enjoyable, subtitles are a small price to pay. If you speak Spanish, however, all the better for you.