movie review :: the orphanage (el orfanato)
for a high strung person, i have an inordinate liking for well-drawn, tense, atmospheric films on the fringes of the horror genre. drawing heavy influence from the works of executive producer and mentor guillermo del toro, the orphanage is a beautiful example of just this, navigating the territory between ghost story and psychological drama with aplomb.
the story centres on laura (belen rueda), who has returned with her husband and adopted son simon(who also happens to be hiv positive) to the orphanage where she spent her childhood. her hope is to found a care centre for special needs children, however that is put on hold when simon, his behaviour increasingly bizarre since an encounter at a seaside cave, disappears.
her search for her missing child brings laura in contact with a phenomenally creepy government social worker, a medium, and, as might be expected, the ghosts of her (and the orphanage's) past.
first time director juan antonio bayona uses the tried-and-true "creepy old house" setting, juxtaposed with the rugged, bleak beauty of the catalonian coastline to create a haunted atmosphere for a story that explores different the idea of "haunting" on a number of levels. while the story may at times seem a little predictable, those elements are gloriously tense and, without revealing too much, serve as clever distractions that give the film a later surprise twist.
like a lot of films in this genre, the orphanage makes an unwise turn at the very end. like adding a lot of sugar to dark chocolate... it's not good to tamper with a great thing.
although i usually take it as a bad sign when i notice technical elements in a movie (means i wasn't absorbed in the story itself), i will note that the sound editing in this film is incredible... it builds atmosphere and even contributes in its way to the story.
well worth seeing.