The Orphanage is a Spanish film from 2007 that garnered a great deal of praise upon its release. The film was directed by J.A. Bayona who before this had only done short films and videos. This was his first feature film, and it’s a very impressive debut. The direction is solid and one of the strongest aspects.
The Orphanage tells the story of Laura (Belen Rueda), a woman who has moved back with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) into the orphanage in which she grew up. They plan on starting a home for disabled children, but there appears to be ghosts at work. The Orphanage is a prime ghost story and is a “Guillermo Del Toro presents” movie. Del Toro is a friend of J.A. Bayona and served as producer on the film. There is a character named after him in the movie and he makes a small cameo as well.
The acting is pretty good all around. Child actors are usually terrible, but the main child actor Roger Princep here is not bad. He can be a little annoying but his performance is strong enough to keep you invested in the story. The main character played by Belen Rueda does a really good job. Her emotions are believable and does a good job of establishing the bond she has with her son, which makes the films later developments more effective. In a great deal of horror movies the audience will be left thinking “Why didn’t they just leave the haunted place?”. Well, her character is believable about the reasons for staying in the orphanage, which is something I give the movie a lot of credit for.
The Orphanage is one of the few movies that falls under the category of horror films with happy endings. While it isn’t overly happy, it’s more bittersweet, but still isn’t as dark as you might expect. While this may not be a problem for some, I found it a little off putting. I would have preferred a darker finale. In fact, just before the happy-ish ending, there is somewhat of a dark twist, that I think would’ve made it better. The Orphanage isn’t very scary, but it has a never ceasing creepy atmosphere. Things always feel slightly off and work to unnerve the audience as well as create tension.
The cinematography (by Oscar Faura) and direction of The Orphanage are fantastic. The colors and shots seem to be meticulously chosen to have the greatest effect. The film is visually strong. The Orphanage has some of the best use of shaky cam I’ve seen in a long time. I’m sick of action movies swinging the camera around so much you can’t tell what’s happening, and I’m tired of horror movies shaking the camera wildly to try and make something appear scary. The shaky cam in The Orphanage is used to convey the emotion of the character. The camera is only shaky when the main character is in a state of panic.
Aside from the ending, the only real problem I have with the film is its score by Fernando Valazquez. The sound effects are fantastic, but the music is another story. Sometimes it is just fine but during certain parts in the film it’s surprisingly unfitting. The music is sometimes too cheesy or overblown for it’s own good. I was taken out of the film by the score more than once.
There are a couple of instances of unnecessary gore (i.e. Gore for gore’s sake). It feels like they just wanted to have some in the movie, so they threw it in without giving it a real purpose. A moment such as the main character pulling off one of their fingernails has no real purpose in the overall plot of the film and feels a little forced.
Even with its minor flaws The Orphanage is still a great film. It has top notch production value and tells an original, meaningful story. Definitely worth watching this October.
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