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  Publicity Stills of
"The Orphanage"
(Courtesy from UIP)

In Spanish with English and Chinese subtitles
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin, Montserrat Carulla, Mabel Rivera, Andrés Gertrúdix
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Content)
Official Website: http://www.simonismissing.com

Opening Day: 20 March 2008


"The Orphanage," presented by Oscar-Nominee Guillermo del Toro, centers on a Laura (Belén Rueda from "The Sea Inside") who purchases her beloved childhood orphanage with dreams of restoring and reopening the long abandoned facility as a place for disabled children. Once there, Laura discovers that the new environment awakens her son's imagination, but the ongoing fantasy games he plays with an invisible friend quickly turn into something more disturbing. Upon seeing her family increasingly threatened by the strange occurrences in the house, Laura looks to a group of parapsychologists for help in unraveling the mystery that has taken over the place..

Movie Review:

In recent years, Spain has been producing cerebral horror flicks of the ghostly subgenre with such offerings as "The Others" and "The Devil's Backbone." With the backing of the latter's director, Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), debuting feature director Juan Antonio Bayona melds fairy tales with frights, setting his tone in his very first image - a children's game rendered inexorably creepy - after an opening credit sequence that imaginatively shreds ones nerves with its sinister shredding wallpaper revealing nothing but black.

Laura (Belén Rueda) and husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) have just moved with 7-year-old adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) to the long-abandoned seaside orphanage that she stayed at as a child. Their goal is to offer a spacious and loving home for special needs children, something near and dear to their heart as they themselves struggle to come to terms with Simón's illness. As Laura and Carlos grapple with telling him about his condition, Simón learns the truth himself through a new group of imaginary friends he meets in a nearby cove. When he suddenly goes missing without a trace and Laura, distraught over the disappearance, starts hearing eerie sounds within the house, she begins to consider the possibility that Simón's friends weren't a figment of his imagination after all.

Bolstered by cinematic atmosphere so ripe you can practically pick it and eat it, The Orphanage is a deliriously delicious creepy. Directed with substantial style and a fabulous flare for the moody, this is appealing adult fantasy at its most enlightened. Similar to witnessing a motion picture marriage between Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and Mexican madman Guillermo Del Toro (who produced this incredible effort), the insidious tale of a foul foster home and the haunted legacy it carries is a major triumph of instinct and imagination. Bayona and his collaborator Sergio Sanchez aren’t covering new ground here. All countries have their haunted house stories, from the demonic dwellings of Italy to the spooked sanitariums of New Zealand. But The Orphanage strives to do something different. It wants to impart a clear emotional core to the film, to make all loss - be it simple or supernatural - become part of the character’s personal concerns. Thanks to some amazing performances, a gorgeously Gothic setting, a flawless sense of dread, and various artful ‘X’ factors, what we wind up with is a true terror classic, the kind of film that will only build in reputation and respect as the years pass.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona keeps a tight-fisted grip on the revelatory, multilayered narrative, in full control over the emotions he elicits at any given moment. Drenched in threatening moodiness and an unshakable sense of impending despair, the picture's human element nonetheless is not overpowered by these things. Still, one cannot deny how chilling the production is. By retaining a subtle tone up until the slightly too on-the-nose final minute or two, comparatively innocuous moments, such as the loose flapping of a shed door, a masquerade party, and the image of a small figure standing before an enveloping cave in the distance, take on an off-kilter and jittery life of their own. More obvious attempts at shocks, such as the grisly aftermath of an auto accident or the slamming of a closet door by a possibly otherworldly force, are additionally so expertly achieved that they feel new again.

The lead protagonist, Laura, is played exceptionally well. Her emotions run deep and we can see them streaming from her as the films wears on. At times gorgeous, at times appearing weathered and at times nearly glowing, Rueda takes a typical, "horror" film heroine and creates someone that we can not only relate to, but completely believe. Young Simón is also a bright spot. While it's historically difficult to find decent child actors, Bayona has found one that didn't seem fake or cheesy at any point. Kudos on that front. The rest of the characters are just sort of there to support Rueda as most (if not all) of the film is told from her perspective; and she makes the most of it.

Hauntingly shot by Óscar Faura, every frame composed with the precision of a photograph, "The Orphanage" is a distinctly affecting psychological drama that also works splendidly as a shiver-inducing horror tale. The oceanside setting (complete with rocky cliffs, sandy beaches and a lighthouse) and the desolate title location are characters unto themselves, drawing the strong-willed but fallible Laura into an ever-terrifying web that may provide her with answers she is not prepared to learn. Movies such as "The Orphanage" do not frequently come around, and they should be applauded for what they achieve. One minute the viewer may be shrinking down in their seat or startled with a jump, and the next he or she might be fighting off the urge to shed a tear. It's fun to be scared, especially when a film has the mind and intelligence to back it up.

Movie Rating:

(A terrifying timeless horror film)

Review by Lokman B S


. The Eye (2008)

. One Missed Call (2008)

. The Reaping (2007)

. The Messengers (2007)

. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

. The Grudge 2 (2006)

. Frostbite (2006)

. Samara (2005)

. The Fog (2005)

. The Maid (2005)

. The Return DVD (2006)

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