The Orphanage (El orfanato)


Rating 4

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

Written by Sergio G Sánchez

Starring Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep, Mabel Rivera, Monserrat Carulla, Andrés Gertrúdix, Edgar Vivar and Geraldine Chaplin

Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the orphanage where she spent an idyllic early childhood, together with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), a doctor, and their adopted son Simón (Roger Princep), who was born with HIV. Laura and Carlos buy the old house to turn into a family home, and also a home for a small group of children with special needs. However, on the day that the children arrive, Simón disappears without trace. Their lives are turned upside down and Laura becomes convinced that Simón’s imaginary friends were somehow responsible for his disappearance.

This multi-award nominated joint Mexican-Spanish production received a lot of publicity outside of Spain because it was produced and “presented” by the acclaimed Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro (‘Mimic’, ‘Hellboy’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’). Commonly described as a horror film, the film does include a supernatural element, but it should not be confused with the likes of the Freddy Krueger films or with the current trend for so-called torture-porn – misogynist twaddle like ‘Hostel’ and ‘Captivity’. The narrative is slow moving and melancholy; there are virtually no special effects and no gore. This is a film about two people being torn apart as they try to come to terms with the disappearance of their son.

It certainly bears some comparison to Japanese horror films, in particular ‘Dark Water’. It is also reminiscent of the unfairly lambasted Asif Kapadia film ‘The Return’, another film that was promoted as a horror, but, apart from a supernatural element, was no such thing. The influence of J M Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’, a story referenced in the film, is also present.

‘The Orphanage’ does not break any new ground; indeed, it treads a well-worn path. However, the script is intelligent, the direction is solid, and the performances are excellent, especially that of Belén Rueda.

IMDb records that the film won 30 awards and received another 25 nominations. It has an 86% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 142 reviews. It had a worldwide box office gross in excess of $75 million.

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