I have just had the great pleasure of seeing this film after the insipid nonsense that was the first episode of Demons. If that series needs to learn anything, it is about how to provide the perfect synthesis of acting, character, plot and visual pleasure. The producers need to sit down and watch this film. If you enjoyed Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth then this makes for a perfect companion piece. And whilst this may be marketed as a horror film, it's in disguise. This is a moving, human story cloaked in superior haunted house atmospherics and subtle scares that have the power to draw you into the heart of the story. It's a horror film that will leave you blubbing your eyes out because it is such a touching, affecting tale.

...she mustn't rest until she solves the mystery and sees her son again
Pan's Labyrinth had the same effect on me too but El Orfanato (The Orphanage) isn't dressed up to the nines in del Toro's rococo Gothic trappings. It's ghosts are rooted in realism and tragedy. And we must thank del Toro for supporting the young director Juan Antonio Bayona to make his film debut. Laura, the central character stunningly played by Belen Rueda, has purchased the former orphanage in which she grew up with a view to re-opening it as a home for special needs kids. She, her husband and her seven year old son, Simon, move in to the restored building and we learn that her son has HIV and a very wild imagination. He has six imaginary friends and plays complex treasure-hunting games with them. One afternoon, when Laura throws a party to welcome the special needs children to their sanctuary, Simon vanishes. The rest of the film is spent with Laura desperately trying to find her son, obsessed that the house is possessed by spirits and that she mustn't rest until she solves the mystery and sees her son again.

It's a supreme analysis of the dark heart of childhood
I'm not going to elucidate further on the plot because the real mystery at the centre of this story is contained in the last half hour and you need to see it unspoiled so that director Bayona can work his magic on you. What you think the film is for the majority of the running time is totally turned around by the ending. The reason why this works: creepy house full of shadows and unearthly noises; very scary children and a central character in Laura whom you utterly believe in, sympathise with even though she is both victim and heroine. If you enjoyed the baroque emotional wallop of Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now, perhaps one of the finest supernatural thrillers, and British films to boot, then this will completely satisfy you. It dances through ghost story, psychological terror, nods to Poltergeist and its spook investigative team with a scintillating cameo from Geraldine Chaplin, and then heart rending family drama and the fact that it can be any or all of these things makes this a horror film for those that don't particularly like the genre. It does have a number of 'catch your breath' shocks, deeply disturbing and atmospheric moments in a deserted beach side cave, a road accident and in the cavernous orphanage itself but it also has Rueda's extraordinarily moving turn as Laura and a gorgeous little performance from Roger Príncep as Simon. When he vanishes from the story, it's like someone turns the sun off. The film is about abandonment issues, the loneliness of childhood, the psychological closure that nervous parents seek through the lives of their own children, the fear inherent in childish imagination and seemingly innocent games. It's a supreme analysis of the dark heart of childhood and how our adult lives tend to be spent trying to come to terms with that revelation. uncompressed DTS Master lossless audio track is nothing short of phenomenal
It is also a compassionate picture of bereavement, with an HIV sufferer in absence, that picks up on our uneasy relationship with mortality, our desperate wish to prove the existence of an after-life and to stare death in the face and simply ask: 'why?' Beautifully shot with a subdued, desaturated colour palette, the film wear its influence on its sleeve with nods to the aforementioned Don't Look Now, but also The Innocents and The Shining. The dark orphanage is murky with shadow but the image on the Blu Ray disc copes with this and reproduces the image with sharpness, very good contrast and black levels. The sound, conveyed through an uncompressed DTS Master lossless audio track is nothing short of phenomenal in the way that the mix of music and sound effects is balanced by great swathes of eerie silence and emptiness. It's a handsome film, worth seeing and listening to. I've only watched the 'making of' and the 'set of' featurettes and both are brief but informative affairs and I'm looking forward to the Bayona Q&A and the interviews with him and del Toro. A real treat of a film.
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen Transfer (1080p)
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • UK Exclusive Q&A with J.A. Bayona at Curzon Mayfair
  • Making of Featurette
  • The Set of The Orphanage
  • The Sound of The Orphanage
  • Interview with Guillermo del Toro and J.A. Bayona
  • Lighting the Darkness
  • Roger Princep: The Casting
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Storyboards
  • Shooting the Credits
  • Animatics
  • Trailers
  • Projections
(Screencaps courtesy of

The Orphanage (Optimum Blu-Ray - Region Free - 1 Disc - Cert 15 - OPTBD1236 - Released 21st July 2008) Don't be put off by the hideous cover!

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4 Responses to “THE ORPHANAGE”
  1. mand says:

    I loved Pan's Labyrinth, so i thought i'll look out for this... but i loved the gothickyness, and this sounds like too much parenty emotion for me... AND i don't do horror... However, i'll give it a go if the dvd turns up less than £3 somewhere and i'm feeling brave. Thanx for the review.

  2. Don't be put off by the emotional content or the parents as central characters. Laura is especially tragic and the drama is not 'soapy' in any way. It fits the story rather perfectly. Well worth a watch, mand!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Puedo mirar está película! Me encantan los películas de Del Toro! Gracias para la información!

    /ends flexing Spanish muscles.

  4. El placer es mío...

    Gosh, we've gone all international!

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