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The Orphanage

A movie directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

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The Spanish spirit in the hall.

  • May 17, 2011
**** 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 forgotten, because if that was the case, then how would a horror film as good as "The Orphanage" have been conceived? It's one of the first original, sad, scary, and down-right creepy ghost stories I've seen in a long, long time; produced by Guillermo Del Toro (selling point right there) and directed by newcomer Juan Antonio Bayona.

The brilliance of the film is not the premise. I've seen many ghost movies, some good, some mediocre, and some really bad. The problem with ghost stories is that you can go in two directions; the scary road, or the road to sorrow and sentimentality. Here is a rare film that does not pick a side; instead, it chooses to tell a chilling ghost story that sends chills down your spine, but it also touches the heart.

It's also a film that touches children and the power of their imagination. The central characters are husband-and-wife Laura and Carlos, as well as their adoptive son, Simón. They live in a house, which used to be an orphanage that Laura grew up in, and Simón has consistent trouble sleeping and making (real) friends. I say this because frankly, he does have friends; it's just that his parents cannot see them.

They are not figments of Simón's imagination; they are not "imaginary friends". We soon discover that they are spirits of children who grew up with Laura at the orphanage; lost, desolate, but not quite ready to move on. The film treats ghosts are spirits who either cannot move on or do not want to. Instead of taking a dive for the gloriously absurd (and yes, it should be glorious), "The Orphanage" is intelligent and smart when it comes to tackling its tight little paranormal premise. There are scenes that blend all kinds of horror; shock horror, suspense horror, tension, and even a scene which makes clever use of a psychic-medium and hidden cameras; which create images and sounds that eventually make their way onto monitors.

The film is smart because it plays with its audience like a spool of yarn, and it does not stop; it does not care to. It was made for patient movie-goers; and patient horror fans. If you are observant of cinematography, music, and sheer beauty alike, then you might see why "The Orphanage" is so darn good. Perhaps it will work best for those who either believe in ghosts, or do not only watch horror movies. It was positively received by various horror sites, but some people didn't feel that it was amazing. Perhaps they are attempting to deny that "The Orphanage" is a true paragon of fear. Perhaps.

So why should you watch this film? Well, why should you not? "The Orphanage" combines so many things together that it should be a mess, a miss, and a failure. And yet, I think it's one of the best horror films ever made. It proves that the Spanish filmmakers know how to frighten you, and they also know more about emotions than most American horror filmmakers ever will. I suppose that if you are patient, and accepting of horror cinema, then "The Orphanage" is the movie for you. It understands the childhood fears; the childhood wonders of the existence of the afterlife. Some often compare ghosts with imaginary friends, and if they are serious about the matter, then this is the movie for them. Here's another great film that forcefully shoves our entire childhood fears down our throat. But this time, we can take a deep breath, and enjoy the scares that this Spanish horror flick has to offer.

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May 17, 2011
excellent review...
May 17, 2011
A fine review of an intriguing movie
More The Orphanage reviews
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 . December 03, 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 …
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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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #1
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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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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