Tuesday, 8 January 2008
The Orphanage is as much a film about grief, loss and the maternal instinct as it is about ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Although, for fright fans, there are plenty of those, too. This is a film that uses the conventions of the genre — phantoms, a haunted old house, sudden shocks — to both dazzlingly creepy and profound emotional effect. Executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro and directed by J.A. Bayona from a decade-old script by Sergio G. Sanchez, The Orphanage begins with a brief prologue in which a young orphan, Laura, enjoys a last game with her friends at the orphanage before being adopted. Thirty odd years later, Laura (Belé Rueba), now married, moves back to the orphanage with her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep), who’s HIV+, a condition he’s unaware of, as is the fact that he’s adopted. Laura and Carlos intend to turn the house into a home for disabled children, but no sooner have they settled in than Simon, who already has a couple of invisible friends, starts “seeing” several new ones in and around the house, imaginary pals whose predilection for playing unsettling games unsettles Laura, if not an initially sceptical Carlos, a condition worsened by the appearance of the elderly, bespectacled and clearly loopy Benigna (Montserrat Carulla) who, armed with some sensitive information about Simon, claims to be a social worker, but whose true tie to the orphanage is only later revealed. Things go from bad to worse when Laura is attacked by a masked child during the home’s open day, then Simon disappears. Several months later, the police have yet to find him, and as the house’s ghostly presences begin to mount, turning more and more terrifying, Laura seeks the help of a paranormal investigator. And, in the film’s most mesmerising sequence seen mainly through night vision cameras, a medium played by Geraldine Chaplin attempts to contact them… Mixing elements of The Innocents with several themes from Peter Pan, Sanchez’s script is mysterious and melodramatic, spooky and serene. I spent, perhaps, too much time trying to establish a logic for the ghostly visitations (I know, I know) while watching the film, almost to the point of near frustration, until the plot’s sting in the tail reveals itself, a heart-wrenching moment which fills in some of the blanks, or, rather, holes in the plot. The ending, too, errs on the side of the sentimental, but Rueba’s stunning performance holds it together. Bayona is a talent to watch.