I’m going to be honest with you: reviewing this film is one of the most difficult things I am ever going to have to do. In life, there are only a handful of constants that never fail me – three of those make up The Orphanage. They are: Spanish language, Gothic Cinema and Guillermo del Toro.
There’s very little that I can say about The Orphanage that hasn’t already been said. Seven years after its original release date (2007), it remains one of the most poignant ghost stories to have ever been told on the big screen. In a world that relies on bite-sized information and 6 second videos for entertainment, director Juan Antonio Bayona managed to create and sustain a deeper and infinitely more magical study of the world of ghosts and children – something most directors still struggle to achieve. If you’re looking for cheap horror scares, this film is definitely not for you.
The story revolves around Laura, played by the magnetic Belen Rueda and her return to her childhood home, a former orphanage, in order to restore it to its intended function. The ocean-side setting is both idyllic and eerie, with alternating shades of sunshine and grey, nostalgic skies. Her child, Simon – a masterful nine year-old Roger Princep – is also adopted, and soon begins to engage with an ‘imaginary friend’. At first, Laura doesn’t let this concern her – until Simon draws a picture of said friend that Laura identifies with.
Throughout the film, Laura’s mixed emotions of comfort and good memories of her time at the house, versus a more sinister vibe of loss and tragedy, are conveyed through masterful storytelling penned by Sergio Sanchez.Is everything as it seems at the soon to be reopened home? And who is the boy with the sack over his head?
Something that has always plagued me about ghost films is the way these entities are often represented. We are taught to fear the concept of a restless spirit. Words like ‘revenge’ and terms like ‘unfinished business’ are often synonymous with ghost stories and even as a child, reading urban legends about haunted hotels and mysterious deaths chilled me to the core. It was very clear that the acceptable representation of a ghost was that of a terrible and wicked being.
Without giving away too much else, The Orphanage is one of very few films that challenge that pretext. There is such a fine line between Laura’s fantasy and reality, that as a viewer, you are unsure of this until the final scene.
I wouldn’t recommend The Orphanage to the faint-hearted. It is truly one of the most profound pieces of modern gothic cinema that I have ever experienced. The adrenaline is in no short supply, but the emotion it packs is above and beyond any expectations.
For more info and the trailer, click here if you dare!
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