On the surface, The Orphanage looks like another throwaway creepy kid movie. Something in the vein of Orphan or the The Unborn but more Spanish. The Orphanage is very Spanish but it’s also a heart-wrenchingly beautiful fairy tale bonded in spooky skin.
Produced by beloved Fantasy/Horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, The Orphanage captures the same whimsy and emotional pain we’ve seen in del Toro films like Pan’s Labyrinth. The Orphanage not only explores the difficulties of being young but also of being a parent. It’s a film that functions just as well as a drama as it does as a horror film. Throw in an element of mystery and you have a refreshing approach to a what sounds like a standard premise, thankfully, this is anything but.
Laura (Belen Rueda) is a former orphan now raising her adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) with her doctor husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) in a big old house, that used to be the orphanage where she lived as a child. With plans to turn the orphanage into a home for special needs children, things take a turn when Simon starts playing with his “imaginary friends”. Then, during a house party, Simon goes missing. Laura goes looking but finds nothing more than a strange masked boy named Tomas wandering the grounds. Are these really imaginary friends, or are they ghosts? Months unfold and Laura only delves deeper and deeper into the mystery.
The build-up is patient and the payoffs are always worth it. Like Del Toro, director J.A. Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez truly capture both the whimsy and terror of being a child. Tomas is definitely at the forefront of the horror with the ghoulish sack he wears over his head. There’s so much here to appreciate on a technical and emotional level. I’d hate to spoil anything as I highly recommend this film to anyone. It might leave you teary eyed but not before being terrified.