The makers of the Spanish-language, Oscar-winning horror fantasy Pan's Labyrinth, offer yet another creepy and mystical tale that is ensured to unnerve its viewers. Like the hit Guillermo del Toro monster movie, this new film centers on the troubles inside the mind of one girl. Yet, unlike recent scary pictures, this is not about watching people get murdered or seeing how much blood or guts can be spilled.
THE ORPHANAGE creates a genuine atmosphere of mystery, even over events in which the outcome can be guessed. The film has elements of some of the best ghost stories to hit the silver screen like Poltergeist (1982) and The Sixth Sense (1999), but doesn't just copy them. It does pattern itself somewhat after Silent Hill, but only rudimentarily. The film becomes its own story.
Belen Rueda (The Sea Inside) plays Laura, a woman who returns with her husband Carlos to the orphanage where she lived for many years. Laura intends to start a minor daycare service for special needs children. With Laura and Carlos, their 7-year-old son Simon also lives and plays. Simon doesn't know it, but there are two secrets his parents hold. Both come to threaten his relationship with his mom Laura and even threaten his life.
Like Carol Ann who talked to ghosts through her TV and Cole Sear who claimed, "I see dead people," Simon also communicates with those who have crossed over. Actually, he plays with them. They play pirate games like treasure hunts. They hide things all over the orphanage and have all kinds of secret places.
Sadly, it's not all fun and games. The ghosts are there to reveal some dark incidents from the past, but is it the ghosts, or is there another force at work? Laura and Carlos don't want to believe, but how could Simon know the names and number of killed kids? Philosophical theories are offered to explain and a female psychic medium named Aurora, who is essentially a taller, skinnier, and more Spanish version of Tangina, arrives.
Aurora, whose presence herself definitely gives off an aura of menace says, "No estamos solos." Regardless, that nothing can be seen, you do believe that they're not alone, that something supernatural is in that house. Aurora goes into a kind of time travel trance. She says, "Puedo oir algo." She repeats it over and over. She can hear something.
Director J.A. Bayona employs various typical techniques to give the audience that horror film feeling, creaking doors and things moving in the shadows are utilized frequently here. Aurora talks about echoes and scars from the past, an audiovisual device that Bayona puts into play as well. There are some children's screams and facial deformities that are particularly jarring.
You're guaranteed to be jarred as doors, many doors in this movie left ajar, are slammed shut, trapping people in rooms and places several times throughout the story. Some traps are forced. Others are chosen, willingly chosen. The idea is invoked that there is a Neverland, a place you can go like Peter Pan where you don't have to grow up, but the price you pay for that playful eternity is literally haunting.
Four Stars out of Five