The Orphanage

The Orphanage

Film review by: Witney Seibold

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            The “creepy child” cliché has been used so often in horror films that even classics like “The Bad Seed,” “Village of the Damned,” and even “The Omen” have started to lose their power upon repeat viewings. The new Spanish thriller “The Orphanage,” from director Juan Antonio Bayona, has its share of tiresome giggly faceless children darting through the shadows, and focuses on a wheezing tyke with a creepy burlap sack over his head, but is mercifully skilled enough to keep its atmosphere thick, and its story lively.

            Laura (Belén Rueda) lives in the orphanage where she grew up with her husband (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simón (Roger Pricep). She is trying to reopen the place as an orphanage, remembering the place with fondness; she can even remember all her old friends by name. Simón, meanwhile, often talks to imaginary friends, and has a tendency to play complicated impromptu scavenger hunt games. Simón, by the way, doesn’t know that he’s adopted. When Simón goes missing at the orphanage’s grand opening, Laura breaks down and, as part of her investigation into finding him, starts discovering some unpleasant truths about her childhood home. Does the oft-sighted wheezing masked child have something to do with it? As they used to say on “Laugh In,” you bet your sweet bippy. There are more twists and turns that I will not reveal, but none of them are outrageous. In fact, some of them are downright creative.

 

            All one can really ask for in a cheapie horror film these days is one or two decent scares, acting that only slightly reaches into average, and a premise that is either original, or does something banal in an interesting way. “The Orphanage” has rather good acting, especially from Rueda who is asked to do more than scream and reach menacingly slowly for doorknobs. The premise is indeed banal (it’s pretty much just a haunted house story), but does indeed do it in an interesting way. And the scares come unexpectedly and effectively. In short, it is a good horror film. Rather than just showing us a creepy child, and blandly stating What Happened in the Woodshed, it bothers to ask questions about maternity, responsibility, and one’s complicity in past sins.

             Sometimes a ghost story will, as it progresses, throw away all semblance of reality, and give us a creepy phantasmagoria of unconnected images, hoping that abstraction can cover the fact that no story or groundrules have been set. “The Orphanage” skirts dangerous close to this practice, but never succumbs. Its ticks to its rules, and everything remains clear. Especially through an effective sequence involving visiting psychics. It’s reminiscent of another Spanish-directed horror film of recent years, “The Others.” That’s not an unflattering comparison.

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Published in: on January 24, 2008 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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