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    The Orphanage

    The pain in Spain

    As an addition to the psychological thriller genre, "The Orphanage" is a solid, well-rehearsed entry.


    More "The Devil's Backbone" than "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Orphanage" ("El Orfanato") is a spooky Spanish-language ghost story with more than a passing nod towards those — and other — fine films of director Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro serves as presenter/producer on this new foreign frightfest; former music videographer Juan Antonio Bayona directs.

    Original title: El Orfanato.
    Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona.
    Produced by: Guillermo del Toro.
    Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez.
    Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Andrés Gertrúdix, Edgar Vivar, Óscar Casas.
    Cinematography: Óscar Faura.
    Edited by: Elena Ruiz.
    Music by: Fernando Velázquez.
    Production design by: Maria Reyes.
    Art direction by: Maria Reyes.
    Costumes by: Maria Reyes.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    "The Orphanage" more closely resembles "The Devil's Backbone" because of, well... the orphanage angle ("'Backbone" was set in one towards the end of the Spanish Civil War). Bayona's film is also eerily reminiscent of the French horror flick "Ils" ("Them") from earlier this year because of the imposing architectural structure at its center replete with creaks, clangs, and many a bump in the night.

    But "The Orphanage" is more a creepy, supernatural tale than a disturbing slasher pic. That said, there's little that's new here — it's the same old atmospheric tale of violent retribution but it's one that's decently acted, especially by the lead Belén Rueda, and filmed with a decorous sense of style. Think a fusion of "The Others" and early Roman Polanski imbued with a Spanish sensibility and you'll be getting warmer.

    The Orphanage  
    Laura (Rueda) used to attend the Good Shepherd Orphanage as a child. Now, as an adult, she and her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo, channeling Jeff Daniels) have purchased the old place and plan to turn it into... an orphanage! Not a big one — just five or six children — but an orphanage just the same. This former/future orphanage overlooks the sea and a lighthouse that no longer shines; it's right up there, aesthetically though. Laura and Carlos have themselves adopted a young, tousled-haired boy, Simón (played by Roger Príncep). Simón, who doesn't know he's adopted or terminally ill, is lonely and bored and, like a lot of lonely, bored seven-year-olds, likes to play with his imaginary friends (Watson and Pepe — psychologists will tell you there's no harm in that).

      Think a fusion of "The Others" and early Roman Polanski imbued with a Spanish sensibility and you'll be getting warmer.
    But there is mucho harm to come: Simón meets a new imaginary amigo, Tómas, in a cave down by the beach and shortly thereafter goes AWOL. Laura and Carlos are (rightly) beside themselves, suspecting an elderly social worker with googly eyes who calls on them one day claiming to know a lot more than she should about their son.

    The creepiest moment comes during a party for potential orphanage patrons. Everyone is masked, like the sacrificial parade sequence in "The Wicker Man," including (supposedly) Tómas himself, who silently approaches Laura on the second floor landing, snuffling and sneezing like a stuck pig from beneath his burlap "sack mask." Creep-ola!

    The Orphanage

    Geraldine Chaplin shows up late in the game as a medium but the sequence, for all of its low-tech gadgetry and ectoplasmic aspirations, doesn't make much of an impact. There's also a disconcerting bit shot (or so it would seem) at double speed in which Laura and Carlos stumble over themselves in the surf searching for Simón. That one comes out of — and ultimately goes — nowhere too.

    As an addition to the psychological thriller genre, however, "The Orphanage" is a solid, well-rehearsed entry. Perhaps if Del Toro had overseen the screenplay, spiced it up a bit by taking a few more chances and original turns, then Bayona's film might have been tastier yet.

    MAY 27, 2008

    Reader comments on The Orphanage:

  • [no subject]   from sylvia plath, Apr 25, 2009

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