Movie: The Orphanage (2007)
Starring: Belén Rueda and Roger Princep
Run Time: 100 min
At first glance, “The Orphanage” appears as original as the last horror film featuring a creepy old house and a child’s imaginary friends. However, producer Guillermo del Toro, the director of last year’s hit “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and director Juan Antonio Bayona present a film that both frightens and enlightens.
Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the orphanage where she was raised to live with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their young son, Simon (Roger Príncep). With plans to turn the old house into a home for a small group of mentally challenged children, the family begins making preparations for their arrival. Before long, Simon starts playing elaborate treasure-hunting games with his new imaginary friends. At first Laura and Carlos brush it off as a normal childhood phase, until he vanishes suddenly during the welcome party for the new children.
Haunted by their son’s disappearance, visits from a disturbing old woman and many supernatural occurrences in their new home, Laura and Carlos must find a way to get their son back. Bayona uses Toro’s successful formula of mixing fantasy with reality, creating a series of plot twists and turns, combined with chilling moments of horror that leave audience members shaking. There’s no mindless gore or overly cliché acting as are present in so many horror films today. Most of the fright sequences are carefully calculated, ready to strike when viewers least expect them. Even if the scare is anticipated, the delivery is well done and at times very original.
The most important thing to note, though, is the overall depth the filmmakers have given to their characters, especially Laura. As a mother, deeply saddened by the loss of her son, she fits the profile of a character present in dozens of other movies. However, Bayona and Sánchez have created a film and characters different from many others. Unlike recent horror film flops, such as “One Missed Call,” this film and its characters have compelling a story; one that will keep audiences interested.
As the protagonist, Rueda carries the film, and does an excellent job. Her portrayal of Laura proves that female horror movie characters do not have to be brainless bimbos running from chainsaw wielding maniacs. She successfully displays the movie’s theme: the unbreakable bond between mother and child.
“The Orphanage” is gifted with an excellent cast, direction and cinematography. The sets are beautifully crafted, setting the mood for the entire story. This psychological thriller keeps the questions rolling in until the end, which is certainly not easily predicted and is very satisfying. This movie rightfully deserves three out of five stars.