The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Made in: Spain Language: Spanish Director: Juan Antonio Bayona Starring: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Geraldine Chaplin, Montserrat Carulla Year: 2007
Synopsis: Laura (Belen Rueda), her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) move into a large, spooky house by the ocean. The house was once an orphanage where Laura lived, and she has plans to reopen it as a home for handicapped children.
When young Simón begins talking about imaginary friends, his parents think nothing of it at first. But soon his stories become more and more complex, and he begins playing strange, elaborate games. And after meeting with an elderly, mysterious social worker (Montserrat Carulla), Laura starts hearing things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day).
One afternoon, while hosting a party for handicapped kids, Laura is attacked by a masked child and Simón disappears. As she frantically searches for her son, Laura begins unraveling the dark and frightening secret behind the orphanage.
The Good: Most movie reviews of The Orphanage have been positive, and I certainly think this is another in a recent line of great Spanish films.
It's a solid ghost thriller that not only scares the hell out of you, but has a great plot as well. Belen Rueda does a fantastic job as the protagonist, and the whole movie just has a sense of sophistication that rises above the horror genre.
The scares are solid, and never cheap. All the story elements, scares and all, make sense and fall into place. Although the "child playing with imaginary friends who turn out to be ghosts" theme is nothing new, director Juan Antonio Bayona gives his characters enough emotional depth and uniqueness to keep you interested.
The strongest part about The Orphanage, however, is the way in which it handles the theme of death. Seen from the perspectives of both children and adults, this topic is deftly portrayed as a universal struggle that creates some of the most genuine and touching moments in the film.
The Bad: The only things that bothered me about the movie was that Belen Rueda's character would sometimes investigate scary noises in the middle of the night all by herself.
That, plus I doubt anyone in their right mind would want to stay in a large, isolated mansion that looks about as inviting as the home of Norman Bates' mother in the movie Psycho.
Who would like this movie: This is a good one for you if you're in the mood for a solid thriller. The scares are definitely powerful and frequent, but thankfully they won't traumatize you.
But even if scary movies aren't your thing, this foreign film is worth it. In the end, it's a powerful and moving story that deals with a difficult topic, and ends on a satisfying note.
Whatever you do, don't watch this movie by yourself at night.