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The Orphanage

A movie directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

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Something truly rare, an artfully done scary movie (I need more than 15 words)

  • Dec 3, 2008
Pros: Acting, plot, pacing, art direction, cinematography

Cons: Some of the imagery is heavy handed and only a little heavy handed

The Bottom Line:

The Orphanage takes the tools of a scary movie and makes it something exciting and beautiful to watch.  I can't think of someone I would advise against seeing it.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

How do you make a scary movie from standard materials but make it new?  Use a true art director, a cinematographer who costs more but brings much more to the table, and brilliant actors.  In short, actually give a crap.

Laura (Belen Rueda) spent the better part of her childhood in an orphanage before being adopted.  As an adult, she and her doctor husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) buy this abandoned somewhat spooky house to run a type of boarding school for special needs children.  They have an adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep) who is HIV+.  He is precious as any boy of about 9 should be.  He has imaginary friends who were truly imaginary.  He encourages his mother to tell a story of a pirate and treasure, so she does as they go to the beach where there is a cave in the cliff-side.  He goes in seeking treasure.  What he finds is at least one more “imaginary” friend.  This is where the spooky starts. 

Simon starts behaving strangely.  It appears that he creates a game of follow the clues with his mother.  It becomes oddly clear that Simon is following clues that he did not plant for himself and his mother’s game.  Apparently following the clues off by himself, he discovers that he is adopted and sick.  He becomes oppositional, not necessarily unexpected, then he disappears.  The house then becomes the standard haunted house where a medium is brought in at one point and so on.  Director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Serigo G. Sanchez use most of the standard tricks and tools in the box marked “haunted house.”

I can’t say anything more about the plot; like I said, they use most of the tools.  The imagery of water and light and mild poltergeist activity are a bit heavy handed, but what stops them from being stupid is just how carefully they are filmed and presented.  They are heavy handed, but they fit the plot and pacing easily.  This is about the only negative thing I can say about this film.

The colors are rich.  The lighting creates shadows, but not in a way that fits the standard haunted story.  As often as not, the shadows are part of a layering effect to make the film beautiful to watch.  We have all been through so many haunted “something” stories that something new is nearly unthinkable, so the team decided to make it beautiful to see.  Also, significant amounts of the scary stuff happen in well lit places.  This does create something relatively new since the shadows can now not be trusted to hide the frightening bits which keep the viewer on edge in a way slightly different from those that came before.

I can see why someone would compare it to Pan’s Labyrinth.  They are both about children traveling a distance of some sort and being taken to a home that is unfamiliar.  They both cover the fabulous and there are some other plot comparisons best left unsaid.

The Orphanage would probably be worth watching even if the plot was run of the mill because of how carefully it was filmed, framed, and edited.  But the story is so compelling that it takes all the hallmarks of a thoughtless genre film and makes it something different.


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More The Orphanage reviews
review by . May 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     We ask a lot out of the horror genre and the filmmakers involved, and often get nothing in return. Remakes are not what we want, and neither are meaningless exercises in violence and sadism. What we need more of is real fear; the kind that sends shivers up your spine. The kind that makes you think. The kind that makes you wait. The kind that people seem to have forgotten.    Well, perhaps it is not right for me to say that EVERYONE has …
review by . April 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The old stone mansion that once was an orphanage sits isolated within its ill-kempt gardens and grounds. The abandoned lighthouse on the cliff not far away no longer shines a beacon. The cave below and the sandy beach still receive the incoming tide. Be wary.       Laura Sanchez grew up in the orphanage. When she was about seven she was adopted and left. Now she is 37, married to Carlos, and they are parents to a little boy, Simon, about seven. They adopted Simon, who doesn't …
review by . January 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
movie poster
THE ORPHANAGE is the latest supernatural film from Spain which definitely has the feel of Guillermo del Toro's influence. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, based on the screenplay by Sergio Sanchez; the film is an enchanting, creative gothic horror film that follows the footsteps of "The Devil's Backbone", "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Others". Much like the aforementioned films, "The Orphanage" has a theme to it, it is not a fast-paced horror thriller with the …
review by . May 08, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
The Orphanage (El Orphanato) - the feature film debut from Spanish director J.A. Bayona - is, in essence, an old-fashioned haunted house movie, dripping with atmosphere and wonderfully unsettling.   The film tells the story of a woman who purchases and moves into an old orphanage where she was raised. Soon, secrets of the past begin to surface and a mystery unfolds that threatens the safety of her own son.  This superbly crafted film kept me gripped right up until its disturbing …
review by . January 09, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Guillermo del Toro got behind this movie for good reason. It witfully dances around the unknown, then leads you down a gnarly path twist by twist. Very well done, and look forward to watching it again.
review by . October 07, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
The Orphanage, does bring sophistication in ghost stories which is rarely heard of, but Guillermo Del Toro manages to pull it off time and time again, and somehow he even managed to inject his magic into this one, which he only produced - as this very much plays out like one of his own films. Not to discredit Mr. Bayona, though, for he has done a fine job. This is a dark, powerful, and moving masterpiece that both adheres to convention and brings some new, more artistic elements to the table in …
review by . May 10, 2008
Excellent Spanish gothic film by first time director Juan Antonia Bayona that feels like and Edgar Allan Poe poem. Along the lines of "The Devil's Backbone (Special Edition), and The Others (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) this Spanish film proves to be a great haunting movie. Creepy in all the right places. Suspense builds throughout the movie at a perfect pace; this is basically the perfect formula film. First off, the acting is phenomenal. Every single actor, especially Belén Rueda, delivers an …
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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It's only his first film, but Spain’s Juan Antonio Bayona has already figured out the secret to a successful supernatural thriller: emphasize character over special effects. Like Walter Salles'sDark Waterand Alejandro Amenábar'sThe Others,The Orphanagepivots on a pretty woman and an unusual child. When her old orphanage goes on the market, Laura (Belén Rueda, Amenábar'sThe Sea Inside) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) settle in with their son, Simón (Roger Príncep). Once acclimated to the remote seaside surroundings, they plan to re-open it as a home for special-needs children. Meanwhile, their seven-year-old doesn't know he's adopted or that he has a life-threatening illness. He does, however, have a lot of imaginary playmates. When Simón disappears without a trace, his parents contact the police, but to no avail. Because Laura has been hearing odd noises and having strange visions, they proceed to consult a medium. Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin, speaking perfect Spanish) is convinced they aren't alone. Carlos has his doubts, but Laura makes like a detective and revisits her childhood--through photographs, home movies, and exploration of the spooky stone manor--to determine who or what abducted her son. Produced and presented by Guillermo Del Toro,The Orphanageis less fanciful than his works, though it does bear a vague resemblance to the ghostlyDevil's Backbone. There are a few gory make-up effects, but ...
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