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  Orphanage, The The Lost BoyBuy this film here.
Year: 2007
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Stars: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Mabel Rivera, Monsterrat Carulla, Andrés Gertrúdix, Edgar Vivar, Óscar Casas, Mireia Renau, Geraldine Chaplin
Genre: Horror
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Laura (Belén Rueda) grew up in an orphanage, and has happy memories of her friends there even though they never kept in touch and she has no idea what happened to them. So potent are those memories that she decides to buy the old orphanage and set it up as her home with her husband and adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep). In addition, she plans to reopen the place as a care home for young children Simón's age, not too many, just the same number as the friends she had when younger. However, the little boy is HIV positive and may not live to see adulthood making Laura all the more protective of him. So when he claims to have imaginary friends...

This modern ghost story was produced by Guillermo del Toro, and was very much in the vein of his own supernatural movies, The Devil's Backbone being the most obvious comparison. However, The Orphanage, or El Orfanato if you were Spanish, did not rely as heavily on grotesques as del Toro's work did, and aside from a couple of grisly shots this was very much a tasteful chiller for people who did not normally go to see horror movies. As if to underline this, the main plot thread concentrates on Laura's love for Simón and her anguish when that love is tested.

Although there are rational voices raised during the film, Sergio G. Sánchez's script falls heavily on the side of the supernatural to explain its spooky goings-on, even if it cleverly reveals the whole tale to be explained by reasonable, if tragic, means. Those imaginary friends of the boy could be the product of an overactive mind, but then he sees a figure in a cave on the nearby beach, someone Laura doesn't quite believe is there, and the strangeness begins in earnest. When an old woman (Monsterrat Carulla) claiming to be a social worker turns up asking about Simón, it is the trigger for him to act very oddly.

As if he had more knowledge than Laura and her husband had ever given him: he knows about his disease, and he knows he is adopted, even though he has never been told. The sadness of a child not having long to live is at the emotional heart of the story, and when Simón disappears at a function to announce the orphanage is looking for applicants, Laura is understandably distraught, not aware of a horrible irony in her efforts to keep the child alive. We then jump forward six months where he is still missing, but his mother is continuing to search for him, covering as many angles as she can in her investigation.

What she has found out is that the social worker has no record of ever existing, and she uncovers a harrowing plot of murder and revenge at the orphanage involving a deformed child who was accidentally killed in the area. While this is fair enough for the intrigue, it doesn't really tie up with the Simón mystery, even at the end, and a whole chunk of the film is as good as a red herring though by no means an unentertaining one. Director Juan Antonio Bayona sustains a nicely oppressive atmosphere, yet there's a hackneyed feeling to much of The Orphanage's suspense, with such overfamiliar sequences as a seance included. The final twist is clever and makes you reassess what you have already seen, but that is not necessarily a good thing and you may feel the film has been wasting your time for long stretches. It is worthwhile for its artistry, however. Music by Fernando Velázquez.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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