“The Orphanage” – 2007 New York Film Festival Review

“The Orphanage” is a Spanish supernatural thriller starring Belén Rueda (“The Sea Inside”). Rueda’s character Laura, her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) move into a huge mansion – formerly an orphanage – near the sea in rustic Spain. Laura has fond memories of the orphanage from when she played “hide and seek” with the other kids. She and her husband plan to adopt a few more children to fill the vast mansion they now live in, but little do they know they are about to unlock secrets the orphanage has been keeping for a long time.

As the movie progresses you wonder about the mysterious noises and visual tricks director Juan Antonio Bayona conjures up to stir your senses. Is the orphanage haunted? Are there ghosts or spirits lurking around? It is a relief to watch a supernatural thriller with the absence of blood splatter and scared mindless women running through the woods. There is a suspenseful scene where renowned medium Aurora (played brilliantly by Géraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin) goes to the orphanage to help Laura and her husband find their son, who goes missing midway through the movie. As Aurora goes into a trance, she walks through the house and senses the horrible secret the mansion holds. She can hear children of the past crying in the room where they slept. The camera goes out and she is back in the room she started in.

Films like “The Shining,” “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense” appeared to have influenced writer Sergio G. Sánchez, but unfortunately, the movie – Bayona’s directorial debut – does not rise to the caliber of those works. You start to become impatient as you wonder what happened to the missing boy and you know he was not kidnapped by the ghosts in the spirit world. Not to spoil the conclusion, but invariably the ending must be a fantasy since Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) produced the movie; there was really no need to coat the denouement with fairy dust.

VIDEO: Director Juan Antonio Bayona

video by Christopher Bourne / Meniscus Magazine