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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Orphanage
The Orphanage
Picturehouse // R // December 28, 2007
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted January 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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It makes a certain kind of sense that a horror movie like The Orphanage would invoke the spirit of Peter Pan in its twisty narrative. There is nothing like a good ghost story to inspire our imaginations, and imagination is the thing that so many of us lose when we grow up. Of course, there are also more dangerous lessons to be gleaned from Pan, particularly the danger of being stuck in one place, be it the eternal boy who can't move on or the avenging Hook who won't quit until he gets his revenge. Such things are also grist for the spooky mill in this Spanish tale of a haunted children's home.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona from a screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez, The Orphanage has a similar feel to other fright fests that have come from Spain and Latin America in recent years, most notably Alejandro Amenabar's The Others and Guillermo del Toro's Devil's Backbone. del Toro also served as a producer on The Orphanage, so it's no surprise that Bayona and Sanchez share the same love of storytelling that has made del Toro's best films such a pleasure to watch. That's right, unlike Hollywood's endless recycling of iconic horror franchises and remakes of Asian curse pictures, The Orphanage has an honest-to-goodness story. There is an art to spinning a scary yarn, and The Orphanage sucks you in with its intrigue; then once it has your tantalized, it delivers the scares.

The plot revolves around an old Spanish house that had once been an orphanage. One of its former tenants, Laura (Belen Ruede, The Sea Inside), has now returned to reclaim the place that gave her a start in life. As one of the few kids who actually got adopted and left, she now wants to open a home where she can help mentally challenged and other special needs children. She has an adopted son of her own, Simón (Roger Princep), who was born with HIV. Caring for children is almost like a crusade for her, one that her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) sympathetically goes along with.

When the family arrived at the house, Simón had two imaginary friends. Within days of being there, he has gathered five new ones, including a strange child named Tomas who wears a raggedy burlap mask over his head. Simón plays elaborate treasure hunting games that he says his new friends set up for him and also draws pictures of these playmates. His parents believe he is in a phase that he will grow out of when the other children arrive, and he can occupy his time with some flesh and blood friends.

Only, on the day the other kids come, Simón has a tantrum and stays in his room. When Laura goes to look for him, he is gone, nowhere to be found. She is also attacked by a child dressed like Tomas. She suspects something otherworldly is going on, a conviction that grows the longer the hunt for Simón continues.

That's about all I really want to say about The Orphanage. The filmmakers have taken such great care to construct a story that reveals itself in such an inventive, seductive fashion, it seems criminal to talk about it too much. I want you to go and see the movie and have the same experience I had. There are some real chills to be found in The Orphanage, as well as some genuine shocks that will likely make you jump in your seat. It's where that whole thing about imagination comes into play. The creators of this movie know that if they can spark yours, you'll completely buy into the web they are weaving, and the more entangled you become, the more you're going to enjoy it.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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