The Orphanage could have descended into the kind of horror movie I don’t like. I love horror, but I’m particular about it. I don’t like torture horror, slasher films, cheap scares, or cliches. I like to linger in a creepy atmosphere, anticipating, dreading. The Orphanage knows the difference between surprise and suspense. It knows how much scarier it is to wait for something than to experience it.
The movie centres on Laura, who was raised in an orphanage until she was adopted. Thirty years later, she returns with her husband Carlos and their son Simon to buy the old orphanage, and run it as a home for sick or disabled children. She has memories here, mostly happy she believes, but pretty soon her son’s imaginary friends lead her to wonder what happened to the playmates she left behind.
This film is a Spanish production directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo de Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth. Like that film, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. We experience the entire film through Laura, seeing what she sees, and we’re tense and fearful with her. The Orphanage isn’t so much a shocker as it is an experiment in anxiety. It’s an elegant film that takes its time, creates atmosphere, and rewards viewers for their patience. Many Pagans will no doubt appreciate the film’s perspective on life and death and the veil that lies between them.
The Orphanage (2007) is in Spanish and is rated R.