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The Orphanage

The Orphanage

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of Featurette (12 mins); Deleted scenes; Interview with Bayona and Del Toro in Budapest; UK Exclusive Q&A with Bayona at Curzon Mayfair; Casting & Rehearsals; Designs & Sounds & Lighting & Storyboards & more.

JUAN Antonio Bayona’s superior chiller The Orphanage serves as a timely reminder that you don’t need relentless gore, cheap shocks or Japanese inspiration to succeed in the horror genre.

Rather, by sticking to traditional storytelling values Bayona has delivered a genuinely scary, yet emotionally enriching ghost story that will surely rate as one of the finest films of the year.

Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the Spanish orphanage that was once her home with the intention of re-opening it for a new generation of children. When her son Simón (Roger Príncep) begins talking of an imaginary friend, Laura is at first sceptical. But then he disappears and she is forced to unlock the secrets of the home’s past.

To be fair, the film operates within pretty familiar haunted house territory (from The Shining to The Others) but manages to avoid feeling like a re-tread because of the way the director skilfully toys with established conventions. This is a slow-burning effort that expertly layers on the tension so that viewers will never feel totally safe or aware of what’s coming.

It helps that Bayona has Guillermo Del Toro as producer and has chosen to follow the template Del Toro laid down with Pan’s Labyrinth, drawing on both the fantastical and psychological elements that helped turn that film into such a breathtaking success.

Bayona’s use of dark rooms and corridors, or children in weird masks, is genuinely unsettling and helps to create the overall sense of dread that hangs in the air throughout. While a couple of the set pieces (especially a sequence involving a clairvoyant that’s shot using night vision) are certain to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

What’s more, he deals with some very complex issues (such as child abuse and parental responsibility) in an extremely adult manner and never feels exploitative or tacky in the way that some modern horror films do.

The Orphanage also benefits from a terrific central performance from Belén Rueda who, as Laura, conveys the torment and desperation of her mother with heartbreaking intensity. She is a terrific guide for audiences and helps to ensure that the film carries a weighty emotional clout during its latter stages.

In short, Bayona has delivered a master-class in horror filmmaking that will expertly have you leaping from your seat one moment, and quite probably shedding a tear the next. It’s an outstanding achievement and an instant classic.

In Spanish, with subtitles.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD Release: July 21, 2008