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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Orphanage
The Orphanage
Picturehouse // R // December 28, 2007
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted December 28, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Even without his credit as producer, it doesn't take a genius to sense Guillermo del Toro's fingerprints smeared all over the new Spanish suspense film, "The Orphanage." It's a ghoulish page ripped from del Toro's recognizable cinema handbook, and while highly effective at times, the film suffers from red light/green light pacing, which eventually robs this eerie picture of ultimate disturbance.

Laura (Belen Rueda) and her husband (Fernando Cayo) have reopened the orphanage of her youth with grand plans of child care. Simon (Roger Princep) is their adopted son: a seven-year-old with HIV and an arsenal of imaginary friends. When spooky events start occurring around the property, Laura becomes consumed with discovering what forces are behind them. Once Simon disappears, Laura is forced to consider otherworldly possibilities, leading her to a final showdown with the orphanage.

I enjoyed "The Orphanage," but only in fits. It's a creative gothic horror piece, meticulously directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, and represents another step forward in the mainstream appeal of the Spanish genre filmmaking movement, spearheaded by del Toro. When it hunkers down with the unknown, it's a rewarding movie; Bayona is terrific with specific tension beats and the creepy echo of the titular location. I also adored how Laura's frightening journey takes her to emotional extremes where sanity is questioned and her past confronted, even involving the advice of mediums (Geraldine Chaplin). Her panic is the jewel of the film, since the audience is never quite sure if her fears are authentic or the result of a fractured mind lost to the extremes of grief.

However, the mixture of horror and tension is rarely allowed to ferment long enough. It's the feature-length directing debut for Bayona, and his inexperience with pacing shows. The film only sporadically puts the screws to the viewer, instead of drawing out the terror in an infinitely more gripping fashion. "Orphanage" is filled with delayed reactions, perhaps to extend the running time to contractual lengths or to suit egotistical notions of cinematic importance. "Orphanage" is distanced and dry when it's clearly screaming out to lunge at the viewer, as seen in the sequences in which a mysterious hooded child terrorizes Laura. Those moments are tremendous; it's too bad they are lost in a picture in need of some serious trimming and concentration.

When the suspense is lined up correctly, "Orphanage" is a decent thrill ride, excellent when it's focused solely on creeping out the room. The finale is a doozy, ditching any need for exposition and plowing ahead with scares and spirit world storytelling payoffs, and closes the film on a terrific, oddly comforting note of terror and solace.


For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com
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