out of Five
Running time: 100
Superbly directed, genuinely creepy Spanish chiller with a strong script and a terrific central performance from Belen Rueda.
What's it all about?
Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, The Orphanage stars Belen Rueda as Laura, a woman who moves into the orphanage she grew up in, intending to open a school for handicapped children with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their young son, Simon (Roger Princep). Before long, Simon has made several new imaginary friends, none of whom seem to be very nice.
Soon afterwards, Simon mysteriously disappears without a trace, sending Laura into a panic. In desperation, she attempts to unlock the mysteries of the orphanage with the aid of a medium (Geraldine Chaplin) and a paranormal expert (Edgar Vivar).
Director Juan Antonio Bayona creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere, thanks to some judicious lighting, some expert sound editing and a series of superb locations – the orphanage is near the coast, allowing for some effectively tense cave exploration. He also orchestrates some terrifically suspenseful scenes (you can tell he's watched a lot of Hitchcock movies) and delivers several memorable shocks that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
Belen Rueda is terrific as Laura, in a performance that is deeply sympathetic and genuinely moving, while there's strong support from Roger Princep (a gifted child actor) and a delightfully weird extended cameo from Chaplin. In addition, the script creates an intriguing mystery that completely draws you into the story, as well as delivering a powerfully emotional climax.
That said, there is one wrong note in the middle of the film, with a scene that is unnecessarily gory and ridiculous to boot, which takes you out of the story for a moment.
In short, The Orphanage is a superbly made horror film that is both genuinely creepy and powerfully moving at the same time. It also marks first-time director Juan Antonio Bayona out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.