I’m not a fan of Spanish films in general. A lot of it has to do with reading the subtitles but I also just don’t find them particularly compelling. That’s not to say that Spanish movies are terrible, just that they’re not my type of movie. So why on Earth did I go see a Spanish movie? Well “The Orphanage” does have a lot going for it. For one it’s been heavily endorsed by Guillermo Del Toro, a master of the gothic horror film as many say. It also drew many comparisons to “The Others,” one of my favorite horror movies. In the end “The Orphanage” is not the scariest or best film but it definitely does a good job of showing where American horror movies miss the mark.
Laura (Belen Rueda) has just purchased the orphanage where she grew up and is intending to turn it into a home for disabled children. Along for the ride is her husband and young son Simon (Roger Princep) who is adopted himself and suffering from HIV, although his parents have never told him this. When Simon starts to interact with various invisible friends his parents assume it is a childhood game, until Simon actually disappears. Months go by and Laura is looking at any way to find her son, but as she digs deeper into the mysteries of her home she unravels a tragic tale of what happened after she was adopted.
There is a lot to enjoy if you’re not a fan of Spanish cinema. One of the best things about “The Orphanage” is how suspenseful it is. Director Juan Antonio Bayona is amazing at making things like dark hallways and closed spaces utterly terrifying. One particular scene with Laura is playing a game to get the ghosts to come out is particularly scary because you’re focused on her but the camera draws it out to show what’s behind her. The entire time you’re on the edge of your seat expecting something to just pop out when they’re really taking their time. I also enjoyed how the conventional horror movie twists aren’t employed (loud noises, something jumping from the side of the screen) and the ending does well to move away from things like “everyone is dead.” The set design is also something I have to applaud. The house isn’t terrifying in and of itself, but the way it’s shown as an orphanage of the past is amazing. A lot of comparison can be drawn between this and Del Toro’s “Devil’s Backbone.” I also enjoyed how the film doesn’t shy away from the utterly disturbing. You see someone get hit by an ambulance and the film doesn’t shy away from showing you the end result. Same with showing someone’s corpse that is starved to death. I thought it was way creepier to show the end results of something then just make you imagine it.
There are a few glaring issues with “The Orphanage” that really bugged me after I watched it. For one the ending is incredibly anti-climatic. I don’t want to ruin it but suffice it to say that all the build-up doesn’t pan out and there’s a very light and somewhat happy ending that just irritated me. I immediately saw that the ending from “The Others” was used and put into this movie. That leads me to another problem I had with the movie is that there are a lot of things that are eluded to that don’t ever get resolved at the end. The movie makes a big deal at the beginning about Laura’s adoption but it’s just dropped. There’s also a big deal made about doppelgangers and twins that is never discussed. It almost seemed like the director just wanted to throw a bunch of stuff in or they ran out of time to flesh everything out. If you think back on it you’ll notice a lot of plot holes that don’t make sense. The film also might have benefited from some editing, especially towards the end. Fifteen minutes could have easily been cut and by the second or third time Laura makes an attempt to solve the mystery I was just ready to leave. An hour and thirty-eight minutes seemed a lot longer.
The acting in the movie is very worthwhile. Belen Rueda is amazing as the tormented Lauar. Watching her be sad or be strong is great to watch and I could easily see her in American films if the mood ever strikes her to cross-over. This movie is really hers to carry as there’s not a lot of other characters that have as much screen-time so she does carry it well. I also applaud young Roger Princep who plays little Simon. He’s not annoying or whiny like typical child stars and he’s just innocent enough to get away with what he does.
I did enjoy “The Orphanage” a great deal but did it entice me to look at more Spanish horror, no. There are a lot of glaring problems with this movie that did take me out of what was going on at times but it was fun for a horror movie. I recommend it, just don’t expect it to keep you up at night.