Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
I was initially unimpressed with this Spanish horror romp, which seemed to have no driving purpose beyond being a Hollywood-style film set in Spain. The story is about a grown orphan woman (Belén Pilar), who moves back into her now-deserted orphanage where her son has been stolen by shadowy children, setting us up for the complacent violated-family dynamics that dominate so many ghost films.
Depending on the horror of a lost child and a damaged childhood that aren’t adequately established, the film flails around in cliché as mother freaks out and her dim-witted husband (Fernando Cayo) tells her to forget about it like every other horror movie spouse before him. But once Geraldine Chaplin shows up as the psychic investigating the orphanage (and facilitates the high point of the movie), things pick up considerably. Though the film never gets a grip on the specifics of terrible traumas living on into the present, it feels them well enough to awkwardly evoke them, and The Orphanage eventually gathers steam to the point of becoming very creepy.
As Pilar pieces together the terrible secret of the orphanage and how to speak to the very angry dead, the movie grabs you with some memorable imagery. It would have been nice if the filmmakers had thought a little more about the film’s implications, with dead, abused children making demands upon the living — then it would have been a real shit-kicker instead of the vaguely resonant movie on offer.
Still, it’s not bad at all, and is dependent on being scary rather than delivering mechanical shocks. It’s a nice change of pace from the sequels, remakes and torture porn that have made American horror so boring to watch.
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