The Orphanage

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) (2007). 105 minutes, Warner Bros. Pictures de España Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

An atmospheric, intelligent, elegant and extremely scary horror film with an ending that will leave you gasping for air. Don’t watch this one late at night.

I love our Apple TV. An inexpensive device that you can rent high definition movies on, delivered right to your house for $4.99? I get both instant gratification and a geek thrill at the same time.

Since getting this Apple TV for our theater room about a month ago, we make a point to check out the new high definition rental releases. For example, last week we rented and watched Cloverfield and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. Both were fine films, and if I had all the time in the world, I’d review them as well.

At the same time, we also rented The Orphanage. We held off watching it, however, since it’s in Spanish, and we wanted to make sure we started watching it early enough that we could concentrate on reading the subtitles without missing anything.

It’s been months since I’ve watched a subtitled movie. It requires a bit of extra concentration to watch a movie in a language I don’t understand, since I must read the subtitles while trying not to take my eyes off the picture. And, I’ve still got to listen carefully, because subtitles only translate the main dialogue – not the surroundings, ambiance, music, etc.

Watching a spooky horror film in another language is even more involving (the last time I can remember watching a foreign horror film was the Dutch film The Vanishing, almost 20 years ago). Perhaps that’s why this one hit me with such a jolt. I had to concentrate whole heartedly on watching the film, and therefore I had to immerse myself completely in its little world.

The Orphanage is a Spanish film, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sanchez. I call out both names because this film is incredibly well-written, the acting is fantastic, and it looks beautiful. This is a high-class effort from beginning to end.

The Orphanage begins with a flashback that takes place about 30 years ago. A young girl is one of six children at a Spanish orphanage, which seems… creepy. You can tell right away that something is wrong with most of the kids; one is blind, another has leg braces, another has some immense headgear that looks beyond orthodontic. As a girl counts off a game of tag, the phone rings, and via a closeup of adoption papers, we see that the girl counting down the tag game – Laura – has just been adopted. We never see the face of the woman who is talking on the phone, although it’s obvious that she works at the orphanage. A dissolve, and the girl Laura is waving good-bye, as she leaves the orphanage to start a new life with her new family.

The movie immediately moves to the present. The girl Laura, now a grown woman (Belén Rueda), is moving into the apparently long abandoned orphanage of her childhood. With her is her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their seven-year-old son Simon (Roger Príncep). Simon, it seems, has some invisible playmates. And it is soon clear to us – although not to Laura – that the playmates are the ghosts of the children that Laura used to play with.

Laura and Carlos plan to run the house as a small orphanage, caring for special-needs children. During an opening day party for the newly remodeled Orphanage, and after the revelation that Simon is himself adopted and has special needs as well, Simon disappears. And never returns.

Months go by. Laura hears sounds in the house. Bizarre clues appear. Is it Simon, trying to talk to her from the dead? Is it the spirits of the five missing children from her youth? And what about the strange old lady who showed up, claiming to be a social worker? Laura hires a team of psychic investigators, who bring with them the mysterious medium Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin). What Aurora discoveres gives a clue to what may have happened to Simon… and so Laura renews her search.

I really can’t say more than that. I will say that if you liked The Sixth Sense… you’ll like this. Stay alert, pay attention to everything that occurs (especially everything that young Simon tells his mother about his “imaginary” friends), and you’ll get one hell of a creep-out at the end, when you realize just what has occurred at… The Orphanage.

Man, I love movies like this.

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