You may remember from our podcast on the subject that I was pretty damn excited to watch The Orphanage as part of our 50 movie challenge. I’m pleased to report that as much as I looked forward to watching this, it did not disappoint.
Allow me to preface the rest of this post with a brief description of what it is I want from a horror film. All I really want from any scary movie is for it to scare me. Many people harp on the genre because it’s unrealistic, predictable, campy, etc, etc. I get it. But I don’t go into any horror film with the expectation that it will reflect real life or even make sense. I just want it to make the hairs on my neck stand up! I want to squirm in my seat and glance around at the shadows around me! I want chills to run up my spine! I want it to make me have to remind myself that it’s only a movie! If it manages to do any of that at least once or twice, I’m reasonably satisfied. If it makes me do all of that and more (surprises me, makes me ponder life’s bigger questions, scares me so much I have trouble sleeping – that hasn’t been done since I was a child – you get the point), I’ll love it forever.
Back to the matter at hand. The Orphanage centers on main character Laura, herself an orphan who grew up in an orphanage with five other children until being adopted. As an adult, Laura adopts a son with her husband and together, they move into the now-closed orphanage where she lived as a child, with the intention of re-opening it as an orphanage for handicapped children. Shortly after moving in, their son, Simon, makes a few new invisible friends (something he’s prone to) and begins to act out. Some general creepiness ensues and escalates, leading to Simon’s disappearance during the orphanage’s open house. Laura desperately searches for her son and in doing so, unravels a long-held secret about her first home.
The Orphanage may not have the most original premise in its genre, but it did scare me. I jumped a couple of times and there were several long stretches throughout which I sat tense and anxious, completely absorbed by the story and eager to know how it would end. It is creepy and spooky and contains all the ingredients a ghost story should: a distraught lead character, one or more possible ghosts, an unsolved mystery at the heart of it all, and an eerie old house full of dark shadows and closed doors. And, while the secret Laura discovers is somewhat predictable, the story’s resolution makes up for it. Belen Rueda gives a convincing performance as Laura and director Juan Antonio Bayona effectively uses imagery to create a haunted and cryptic feel.
You all know by now that ghost stories are my absolute favorite in the horror genre and an original one that gets under my skin is a rare and precious find. The Orphanage is one such find. It certainly is one of the best ghost stories I hadn’t seen and I recommend it for any fan of the genre to see.