Laura (Belén Rueda) has persuaded her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), to buy the abandoned orphanage where she was raised. They hope the fresh air and rugged setting in the Atlantic Northwest of Spain will provide a wholesome environment for their chronically ill adopted seven year old son, Simón (Roger Príncep). Laura even intends to reopen the facility as a home for children with mental disabilities. But then Simon's games with his invisible friends turns into terrifying drama when Simon himself disappears.
Review by Louise Keller:
This spooky supernatural thriller haunts on various levels as time frames merge and a woman's sanity is put on the line while she tries desperately to find her missing son. Invisible friends, evil spirits and strange occurrences form part of the threads of this acclaimed film. It won seven awards at the 2007 Barcelona Film Awards including best film and best actress for the superb Belén Rueda, who plays the vulnerable Laura. It is through Laura's connection to the orphanage that the film plays out, beginning with a glimpse of her childhood when she as a young girl played in its gardens. The film's heart beats for the unwavering love of a mother for her child, and on that level alone, the film tugs at the heartstrings.
Laura and her doctor husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) are desperate to give their adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) an emotionally secure life. Shielding him from his illness and keen to introduce him to other children who have special needs, Laura becomes troubled as strange events start to take over her life. The ghosts of the past come back to haunt her, just as the doors of the orphanage are about to be reopened. There are noises in the night, the visit of a strange woman and a treasure hunt that leads to unexplained mysteries and culminates in Simon's disappearance. 'Only you know how far you are prepared to go,' Geraldine Chaplin's psychic Aurora tells her, explaining that it is not simply a matter of seeing before believing, but it is vital to believe before it is possible to imagine the truth. Director Juan Antonio Bayona maintains tension with breathless claustrophobia as events become more and more complex. Perhaps the most terrifying and haunting images are those of children whose heads are eerily masked by sacks.
Central to the story is Laura's devotion to her missing son and determination to find him at any cost. Patience is required to stay abreast of the plot in this ghost story, but the rewards are considerable. This is a stylish and subtle film whose imagery lingers, just like that of the lighthouse as it sends a protective, invisible light on the darkest of nights.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Perhaps I'm just resistant to, and more critical of, supernatural thrillers and horror stories (Japanese horror, for example, tends to bore me) but The Orphanage seems not only derivative with its mysteriously banging doors, children with invisible friends and a kids party with people wearing vaguely ominous masks, but curiously uninvolving. The performances are excellent, yet the characters seem faint, like the ghosts of the story.
There is fine craftsmanship, too, and the film's visuals are elaborate and effective. Director Bayona shows flair in his handling of the material, and the setting is cinematically ideal - and fresh. Not many films we see are set on Spain's Atlantic coast.
Young Roger Princep is outstanding as the adopted boy, and Belén Rueda glues the film together when there is not much else to work with. Geraldine Chaplin has a great little cameo as a medium, and the minor supports are all solid. The film has a pile of accolades and awards, so don't take my (unenthusiastic) word for it: take a look.
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ORPHANAGE, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Geraldine Chaplin, Andres Gertrudix, Edga Vivar, Oscar Casas
PRODUCER: Guillermo del Toro, Mar Targarona, Joaquin Padro, Alvaro Augustin
DIRECTOR: Juan Antonio Bayona
SCRIPT: Sergio G. Sanchez
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oscar Faura
EDITOR: Elena Ruiz
MUSIC: Fernando Velazquez
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Josep Rosell
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 29, 2008