Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Orphanage - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Screewriter: Sergio G. Sanchez
Running Time: 105 mins.
Certificate: 15
Released: 21 March

There’s an interesting trend emerging with contemporary horror films. The ones made for adults feature children, and the ones made for teens predominately feature other teens and 20-somethings. I couldn’t give a toss about the Hostel gobbledygook, but a ghastly brood in a big spooky house? I’m hooked. Is there anything more terrifying than the twins in The Shining? Heck, is there anything more terrifying than kids full stop? Since American filmmakers today are too concerned with delivering the teen-exploiting cash-cow gore franchises, the Spanish have proven to be the new masters of horror, using the spectre of dead children to spook Mom, Dad and the rest of us.

Having herself been adopted at a young age, Laura (Belen Rueda) is the foster parent to a cherubic, HIV-infected orphan, Simon (Roger Princep). Along with doctor-husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), the saintly family reside in Laura’s old orphanage, an enormous gothic estate in the middle of nowhere near the sea. While Laura prepares to turn the poorly lit home into a residence for disabled children, a resentful Simon goes missing. A young, burlap sack-headed boy starts haunting the joint, but the eerie sounds in the dark are more than just spooks, and grieving Laura picks up on clues from beyond in search of her boy. Her suspicions invite a cartoonish Hitchcock-esque cadre of characters into the mix, including a bug-eyed old coot hiding in the shed, an absurdly plump paranormal psychologist, and perhaps most randomly of all, Geraldine Chaplain, whose turn as a medium provides a petrifying centrepiece.

Long-fused tension fuels the scares, and the imagery of ghostly children should be adequate nightmare fodder for the audience. But The Orphanage is much more than a horror movie. While its scare tactics are nothing new, there is freshness and merit in its examination of faith and deterioration. The acting between Rueda and Princep is rich and convincing, putting muscle and heart behind the driving force of the story. With the recent news of the horrific abuses in the children’s home in Jersey, along with the highly publicized cases of missing children, The Orphanage is unexpectedly topical, adding a new perspective to a truly horrible reality.

With a script ten years in the making, The Orphanage is “presented” (re: produced) by Guillermo Del Toro, literal poster boy of the new wave of Spanish horror films. While Del Toro’s name is used to promote the The Orphanage, which bears some similarities to his work, nothing should be taken from Catalonian director Juan Antonio Bayona, whose debut feature takes cues from Hitchcock, Kubrick, Speilberg and JM Barrie to make The Orphanage an emotionally chilling success.

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