This may have been one of my very favorite horror films this year.
The Orphanage (or El Orfanato) was a 2007 Spanish horror film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro. It’s easy to see where the comparisons are drawn between this film and del Toro’s tour de force, Pan’s Labyrinth, but for my money, The Orphanage is its own stunning, haunting, and gorgeous movie, and it was easily one of the best things I’ve seen all year. Part horror film and part fairy tale, I was just sort of enchanted with the entire story.
I don’t have a lot of notes for this one, so I’ll just give you what I’ve got for now.
1.) The cinematography is beautiful. This is a lovely, dark, melancholy film, and no shot in it is wasted. I particularly love the opening scene. It manages to be both charming and creepy all at the same time. Not an easy feat.
2.) I suppose I could tell you about the plot, for once. Okay, basic plot: Laura and her family (husband Carlos and adopted son Simon) move to their new home, the orphanage that she grew up in. Strange things begin to happen, however, including weird sounds, strange visitors, and Simon making some new invisible friends. When Simon goes missing, Laura is determined to get him back . . . but her search leads her to startling and frightening discoveries about the tragic origins of the orphanage.
I know. How’s THAT for vague and useless? Man, writing summaries sucks.
Anyway, I bring up the plot of the film because this movie does have a little of that old is this really happening or is Laura going crazy to it. I mean, I could see how that would be argued. But I really like how its dealt with here, and more on THAT in the Spoiler Section.
3.) I never had an invisible friend as a child. My parents should consider themselves lucky. Stories with invisible friends never turn out happy and wholesome. Ever.
4.) Acting all around was pretty good, but the standout, of course, is Belen Rueda, who played Laura. This movie is all about her character, and thankfully, Rueda is a strong enough actress to pull off the role. If she hadn’t been, then this film would have just flopped. It is vital that the lead can really act here. Remember that, directors, when the American remake inevitably gets made.
5.) I was a little worried about how they were going to end this one, and while I didn’t get the ending that I was necessarily hoping for, I didn’t get the one that I was kind of dreading, either. The twists and turns in the film were honest, and nothing that was done felt cheap or unearned to me. I’ve been trying to think about any serious problems I had with the movie, but so far, nothing’s coming to mind.
6.) Opening credits? SUPERB.
7.) . . . I really have nothing else. I just really liked this film. A lot. Definitely worth watching, if you haven’t tried it. As for me . . . well, I do have some Christmas money that needs to be spent. Hee.
Now, for those of you who have seen The Orphanage . . . the ending.
First, I just wanted to mention that when the old lady gets hit by the bus? I totally did the big jump, hand to the mouth, startled laughter thing. Good on you, Bayona.
Now, The Orphanage is not exactly what I’d call an upper of a film, but it didn’t make me want to kill myself at the end, either. I was just sad. After playing the finding game with Tomas, Laura discovers Simon, supposedly alive, in a secret room accessed through a small closet in the house. When she wishes the ghosts away, though, Simon disappears as well, and Laura finds his corpse on the floor. Then we discover what really happened: Simon went to play in the secret room, and during the course of the party, Laura accidentally locked him in without even realizing it. What makes it particularly horrifying is that the noises Laura heard that first night, that strange, ghostly knocking . . . it was actually her son banging on the walls. He died within their home as Laura spent the next nine months searching for him. It’s, well, it’s fucking heartbreaking, really.
I tend to be a literalist when I watch movies, so when you present to me a ghost story, I don’t usually want to see a “clever” twist at the end where there were actually no ghosts, and it was all a figment of someone’s imagination and so on and so forth. You gave me a ghost story, so I want a godamned ghost story. That twist can work, of course, but it’s not my favorite—I’d like people to embrace the genre of fantasy for once—and, besides, the oh-I’m-secretly-an-unreliable-and-cuh-RAAZY narrator has been pretty much done to death, hasn’t it?
So, what I liked about The Orphanage was that even though Simon’s death came from mundane and not supernatural causes, that didn’t immediately cancel out the ghosts and everything else that’s happened in the film. Tomas and all the other ghost children are all still real. (I guess you can argue that this is subjective, but I don’t know how Laura could have discovered anything that she did without Tomas being real, and I think the film intends for you to believe in the ghosts. I don’t think it’s supposed to be all psychological and twisty, the way I suspect an American remake might be.)
Anyway, Laura, weeping, takes her son’s body upstairs to the bedroom and proceeds to overdose on some pills. She asks to have her son back, to be with him again. And since you get to make a wish after you find the object of your quest, Laura dies and is with Simon again—as well as all of the other ghost children. This also coincides with Simon’s wish, that Laura would come and take care of all the ghost kids, that she would be their own grown up Wendy. And so, smiling, that’s what Laura does.
See, it’s not exactly an upper. But it was tragic and moving and lovely, and it was a great note for me to end my Year of Horror on.
In conclusion: see this film.
Moral: if your kid starts hanging with an invisible friend, MOVE AWAY and make your kid socialize more with real people. They may hate you for it, but at least you won’t have ghosts trying to kill you and whatnot.