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The Orphanage

A movie directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

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"When something terrible happens sometimes it leaves a trace...like an echo repeated over and over."

  • Apr 21, 2011
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 know this, and who is deadly ill with a disease only pills can keep at bay. Now Laura and Carlos have just bought the abandoned orphanage and are moving in. It is a large building of many empty rooms and shadowed hallways, with dark oak paneling, old fire places and frosted, etched glass. They hope to make it a home for children with special needs. There are no children yet, just Simon.
Simon makes friends, make-believe friends. He says they tell him things. "I won't grow old. I'm not going to grow up," he tells his mother.
"Will you be like Peter Pan?" Laura asks.
"Like my new friends," Simon says.
"There's more than one?"
"They won't grow up either?" Laura asks.
Simon looks at her. "They can't," he says
Simon leads Laura in a game to discover clues, a game he and his friends have invented. Suddenly the game is foreboding. "You're not my mother!" Simon screams at Laura.
"Who told you that?" she asks, stricken that this little boy, her son, is facing something she and her husband were waiting to tell him when he was older.
"My friend told me," Simon says.
"What friend?"
"Tomas," Simon yells, crying and defiant. "Tomas told me the truth, that I'm just like them.... I have no mother or father and I'm going to die."
Days later, Simon disappears, apparently kidnapped. The parents, with Laura increasingly frantic, try everything to find him. In time, there will only be Laura and this moldering stone mansion where she was raised as an orphan with other orphans. We begin to learn what happened there when Laura left as a child.
So...whose imagination, whose story are we inhabiting?
"Horror" is a term that has been debased in the movies over the last thirty years or so. Technology and computers have eliminated most of the need for imagination and the kind of dread we make for ourselves out of little things. Market research drives so many creative decisions into the dead end of splatter and special effects. The Orphanage is just slightly a horror movie. It is lonely, deliberative, sad, thoughtful, even quiet, even, surprisingly, with a degree of contentment at the conclusion.
All the actors do fine jobs. There is a notably quiet and intense performance by Geraldine Chaplin as a psychic whose own death is near. It is Belen Rueda as Laura, however, who helps make this movie something special. There are so many opportunities for intense "acting," distraught "acting," tearful "acting" and Rueda does nothing of this. We believe her as Laura because she doesn't try to over-dramatize Laura. Laura is often intense and sometimes distraught. She also puzzles through this mystery, is determined to find her son and can take action. But Rueda never overacts. Thanks to Rueda's performance and fine directing and screenwriting, I think The Orphanage establishes itself as an unusual and highly intriguing movie. If you have a taste for unsettling stories, I also recommend you try The Innocents with Deborah Kerr.

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April 22, 2011
Great review and I agree with your observations. This almost played like a fable too, and good comment on the INNOCENTS with Deborah Kerr....
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 . 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 …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … 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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