Published on May 20th, 2007 | by Padraic Coffey0
The Orphanage (2007)
In many ways, Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro is to the modern horror film, particularly the Spanish-language horror film, what Judd Apatow is to the modern American comedy film. Outside of his own formidable directorial canon, including entries in the Blade and Hellboy franchises, his fingerprints are on a number of works as executive producer. 2010’s Julia’s Eyes and 2011’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark bear the prefix, “Guillermo del Toro Presents”, an honour of dubious merit, as anyone who sat through not one but two straight-to-video sequels to Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk Till Dawn will attest (both were allegedly “from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino”).
The Orphanage, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, was the first film attached to del Toro following his hugely acclaimed 2006 fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth. While he may not have actually been behind the camera on The Orphanage, there’s little doubt del Toro’s seal of approval helped the film reach a much wider audience than it otherwise would have, though those expecting more of the outlandish creatures which populated Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy series will be disappointed. The Orphanage is a more traditional horror movie than del Toro’s own work, addressing two themes which have re-occurred in horror cinema on many occasions: firstly, hitherto-concealed menace displayed by children (seen in everything from Village of the Damned to The Omen and Let The Right One In) and secondly, the grief felt by parents over the loss of a child, dating back to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now in 1973, right up to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist in 2009.
Laura (Belén Rueda) has recently purchased the orphanage where she spent her earliest years. As well as residing with her husband, Carlos, and own adopted son, Simón, she plans to convert the building into a residence for mentally challenged children. Tragically, during a celebration to welcome the first group of children to arrive at the house, Simón disappears. Laura suspects he has been kidnapped by a sinister elderly social worker who arrived at the orphanage unexpectedly the previous night. Her efforts to locate Simón consume Laura, and lead to the films unanticipated denouement.
As with most of the better horror films, The Orphanage is best experienced knowing as little about the plot as possible. It has been called a ghost story, though to categorise it as such might dissuade potential viewers, and do a disservice to its ambiguity. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, the film is open to interpretation. Tormented by the lack of closure on her son’s fate, there’s as much a chance that Laura is hallucinating as there is of any haunting. Perhaps Bayona had not intended the film to be treated with such po-faced analysis, but Rueda’s superb performance explores the sometimes tentative relationship between adoptive parents and children, and the unconditional love displayed by Laura for Simón is undeniably poignant.
For the most part, The Orphanage avoids gore, bar one scene which pilfers a shock from 2000’s Final Destination. The film’s wonderfully designed opening credits are also deserving of mention. It perhaps loses its way in the third act, when an unconvincing medium is introduced in order to amp up the supernatural aspects of the story. Nevertheless, fans of the genre should find plenty to enjoy The Orphanage, particularly since an inevitably inferior English-language remake is currently on the cards.