Thank you, GiggleSugar, for writing this review because
I'm too scared to see this movie I haven't, um, had the chance to see the movie yet.
The Spanish-language film The Orphanage is a classic ghost story. There are no fancy CGI effects, there’s very little gore, and it doesn’t knock you over the head every five minutes with a cheap scare. But make no mistake: This is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen — perhaps even the scariest.
Laura (the wonderful Belén Rueda) returns to the orphanage she grew up in to start a home for sick and disabled kids with her physician husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo). She soon finds that her seven-year-old son Simon (played by adorable Roger Princep) is not adjusting so well to their new gloomy home, which is an imposing, gray house by the sea.
Simon’s imaginary friends begin to proliferate and his communications with them grow uncomfortably non-make-believe. During a treasure-hunting game Simon's "friends" have set up for him, he finds a folder that reveals what his parents were planning to tell him later: that he is adopted and that he is HIV-positive. Simon’s parents try to reassure him, but after a fight with Laura, Simon disappears. There's much more to this eerie story, however, so read more.
Months after Simon's disappearance, Laura enlists psychics to contact the spirits that she thinks are hiding the boy. After a terrifying séance in which a medium (played by a spooky Geraldine Chapman) reinforces her suspicions, Laura's weary husband insists that they move out. But she tells Carlos she wants to stay just for two more days — alone — to say goodbye. Here, the film gives itself over to Laura and her anguished quest for her son. Do ghosts in the house really have him? Is Laura actually being haunted by memories from her past? Is she mad? Or all of the above?
The Orphanage doesn’t reinvent the ghost story, it just does it really, really well. Whether it’s Laura walking down a dark staircase, a creepy child in an even creepier mask (see top photo) suddenly appearing where he shouldn’t be, or sounds that go bump in the night, the film delivers them all with maximum impact. But what sets it apart from merely scary films (and what it has in common with other great films in the ghost story genre like The Others) is that it gets you emotionally invested in the characters and understands that behind a good ghost story is a tale of human suffering and tragedy. Ghost stories tap into primal feelings: The dread we feel about the idea of the dead communicating with us is mixed with our desire for them to do so. The Orphanage plays with these two conflicting emotions to moving and terrifying effect. I was emotionally absorbed, and after watching this film, I also finally understood where the cliché “spine-tingling” comes from. Go see this—but don't go alone.
To see the trailer and more clips from The Orphanage check out movies.ivillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Picturehouse