Juan Antonio Bayona
- Belen Rueda as Laura
- Fernando Cayo as Carlos
- Roger Princep as Simon
- Mabel Rivera as Pilar
- Montserrat Carulla as Benigna
- Geraldine Chaplin as Aurora
A chilling, emotionally involving and nerve-shredding Spanish horror film , The Orphanage will have you on the edge of your seat as you try to piece it together. Yet unlike some horror films that don’t focus on character development, The Orphanage furthers our feelings towards the characters because of the performances, especially from Belen Rueda. This adds to the emotional engagement the audience feels as we watch a mother desperately trying to cling to her sanity whist attempting to find her missing child. Also, it doesn’t rely on gratuitous gore to create scares, it instead uses moments of foreboding silence and exemplary lighting to generate effective chills. Anyway back to my review of it.
37-year-old Laura grew up in an orphanage that overlooked the sea along with five other children and a carer. Years later, she returns to the orphanage with her husband Carlos and young son Simon. Her plans are to open it as a facility for disabled children. Her son Simon has recently claimed to have imaginary friends, Laura thinks nothing of it only that Simon is just lonely and has created them as a distraction for his boredom. Not long after arriving Simon claims to have made a new friend called Tomas while he was exploring a nearby cave, Tomas is shown to be a boy with a patterned sack covering his face. These events coincide with the arrival of a creepy “social worker” named Benigna. She questions Laura about Simon being adopted and how unbeknownst to the sweet child he is HIV positive. Incensed she sends the creepy old woman away. This is when events begin to take a sinister tone around the old orphanage. After an argument with Simon and an “encounter” with his imaginary friend, Laura and Carlos discover that he has gone missing. And so begins a frantic search that leads to dark secrets hidden in the eponymous orphanage and shocks a plenty. Despite people’s insistence that Simon is dead, the determined Laura refuses to believe it and delves deep into the murky history surrounding her former experiences at the place. Are the imaginary friends that Simon spoke of real? Or is it something more plausible than that? Is the threat supernatural or physical? Prepare for scares as The Orphanage takes you on a fright-filled trip that will leave you flawed and reeling by the end.
Juan Antonio Bayona conjures up a shadowy and malevolent atmosphere through the use of music and the seemingly ordinary appearing very different. He excellently blends the line between supposedly innocent children’s stories and reality to create a deeply chilling film. The main reason the film is so effective is the powerful performance of Belen Rueda, who embodies the undying love and of a mother desperately looking for her child. In a small role, Geraldine Chaplin stars as a medium called in when the police can’t find the young boy. It is through the medium that secrets are unearthed as Laura refuses to give up on hope. The atmosphere created is palpable and chilling, making excellent use of long corridors, never-ending staircases and slamming doors in nods to The Innocents and The Others . What is also surprising is how relatable the material is and the way in which the audience responds emotionally to it. Most of the horror in the film is because of Laura’s never-ending search for her son and the pain it causes her, this is supremely staged and shows how a story can get deep under your skin without gore and excessive violence.
Chilling, nail-biting and surprisingly poignant, The Orphanage is a must see for fans of psychological horror and ghost stories in the gothic horror mould. Believe me you won’t be sitting comfortably once the film has finished.