This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2007’s The Orphanage.
The Orphanage has always been a horror film that I’ve been meaning to watch, but have never got around to it. It has appeared on some “Best Horror Films” lists, but somehow still seems underrated and seems to lack the iconic status of many beloved horror films. This is probably down to it’s fairly recent release, coming out only 12 years ago.
The critically acclaimed film is centred around Laura (portrayed by Belen Rueda), who moves into the former orphanage where she grew up in hopes to turn it into a home for disabled children. She moves in with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their troublesome adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep). Laura and Simon’s relationship is strained, and after an argument between the pair, Simon mysteriously goes missing and Laura becomes determined to find him. Meanwhile, Laura begins to notice a bunch of mysterious occurrences around the orphanage – including some strange noises and the appearance of a young child with a sack on his head (one of the film’s most arresting and iconic images).
The film is notable for being the debut feature for J. A. Bayona, who has since gone to create the disaster drama, The Impossible (2012) and the dark fantasy drama, A Monster Calls (2016), before directing the big blockbuster movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), going on to be his biggest commercial hit, gaining over 1 billion at the box office.
This is very much like Bayona’s other films in that the film contains with children. Much like Tom Holland’s appearance in The Impossible, Lewis MacDougall’s lead performance in A Monster Calls, and the appearance by Isabella Sermon in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this film puts it’s young star, Princep in a leading role here. The real strength here is that Bayona is not afraid to put Princep front and centre, and give him a lot of dramatic scenes, and he gives a really great performance.
But the real star here is the absolutely wonderful Belen Rueda. Her performances was reminiscent of that of Essie Davis in another fairly recent horror film, The Babadook (2014) in how it shows a detailed depiction of a mother, who sometimes hard to sympathise with and who does things that the audience don’t like (like at one point slapping her son), but she always finds a way into the character for the audience. She commands the screen with absolute charisma and gravitas, and although, it would seem very unlikely (for being a foreign language horror film), should of got a Oscar nomination back in 2008.
It seems like the reason why the film seems quite underrated is possibly partly due to it’s unfortunate comparison to the iconic dark fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth, released one year before this film – in how both films originate from Spain, they centre on a young child, and also because Pan’s Labyrinth’s director, Guillermo del Toro executive produced this movie. The comparison seems rather unfair because the two films are rather different beasts – Pan’s Labyrinth is a fantasy drama with dark and depressing undertones, while The Orphanage is more a chilling and haunting ghost story. The comparisons that I would make for the film are films like The Others (2001) and Poltergiest (1982), which are also very chilling ghost stories, or The Omen (1976) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) which also centres on troublesome young children.
Also much like those films, the film is brilliantly creepy, suspenseful and thrilling, and never settles for just cheap scares. Sometimes, when horror films are described as not being centred on “jump-scares”, they can sometimes in fact go the opposite way, and be slightly boring, however, this never happens with The Orphanage. It has some wonderful scares – particularly one involving knocks on a door – which are very effective and scary, and a great sense of mounting dread and suspense, which peaks in the final scene.
Additionally, the film is like those films because it still has a very strong story at it’s core. It’s not just about the horror – the film remains a really haunting and realistic portrayal of a mother and son relationship, and a fragile and on the edge mother, who would do anything for son. Also, unlike some horror films, the film doesn’t put it’s central characters in situations where they do unrealistic things. The film always remains true to the characters’ original characterisations, and always relies on true emotion.
Sometimes, the film has moments of feeling a little tonally out of balance – there is one particular moment at the beginning that feels quite darkly funny and has a lot of slapstick humour, which feels very strange and out of nowhere. Also, there is a particular plot point – that involving Montserrat Carulla’s Benigna Escobeda – that never quite clicks and falls into place completely.
However, The Orphanage remains a real threat – it is haunting, chilling and just really great. I’m so glad I finally got around to watching it, because I had a great time, and I can’t wait to see what else Bayona does with his career.
Next Time: The Wailing (2016)