Review: The Orphanage

Philip French: The less you know of this film, the more you'll be surprised, shocked and, in the end, satisfied

The Orphanage (100 mins, 15) Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona; starring Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Geraldine Chaplin, Mabel Rivera

The one movie genre now thriving the world over is horror, and nowhere more so than in Spain, where Mexican maestro Guillermo del Toro, whose own masterly films include The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth, has produced The Orphanage, the confident feature debut of Juan Antonio Bayona. The setting is the wild coastline of Asturias where Laura (Belén Rueda) and her doctor husband, Carlos, have bought the disused orphanage where she was an inmate as a child 30 years ago. They've moved there with their seven-year-old adopted son, Simon, who has congenital HIV, and intend to take in other suffering children. But from the start things start going haywire. There are strange noises. Simon talks to imaginary friends, seems to be in touch with the past, and then disappears, possibly abducted by a former teacher at the school.

There are elements here of other classic occult movies, paranormal investigations such as The Haunting, tales of children communicating with the past such as The Innocents and The Shining, and distraught mothers seeking lost children, most famously Don't Look Now. Bayona handles his story with great skill, giving the house and its surroundings a baleful look, drawing us into Laura's world through big close-ups of her eyes and long subjective shots that dart around rooms as her anxieties overcome her. Rueda is excellent, and there's a terrific cameo performance from Geraldine Chaplin as a medium who descends on the orphanage with a team of hi-tech ghostbusters. But the less you know of this film, the more you'll be surprised, shocked and, in the end, satisfied.


Philip French

The GuardianTramp

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