The Orphanage (15)

Mar 18, 2009
Cranbrook Film Society

Laura (Belén Rueda) has returned to the shutdown orphanage of her childhood to turn the isolated mansion into a home for children with special needs. She, her husband, and their adopted son, Simon (the adorable Roger Príncep) have the huge house to themselves for the time being.

Simon takes to his new home, where he is very much in a world of his own, fantasy wise. He sees things hidden within the creaky mansion and ecstatically tells his mother clues and riddles on how to find them, as well as mentioning his new (invisible) friends. During a children’s party, Simon vanishes. Kidnapped? Dead? There’s even a Peter Pan-like possibility (a subtle one) apparent early in the film. Laura’s one and only thought: to find her son – he must still be alive, somewhere….

The Orphanage is “presented” as well as produced by Guillermo del Toro. This latest film feels very much at home in the del Toro universe following on from some of his best work – the well-regarded Pan’s Labyrinth and another film he previously directed, The Devil’s Backbone.

This is Juan Antonio Bayona’s first film as a director following several short films, which makes it all the more exceptional. He goes for the twists and turns that come with the ghosts-in-a-spooky-house subgenre, and in the last act, some obligatory things happen to Laura, but the plot never descends into contrivances or cheap thrills

As Laura, Rueda’s performance is non-fussy and extraordinary, calling up the kind of emotional ratcheting that becomes tougher as the story moves into territory that can be potentially more grisly, or, in fact, much more tragic. Like del Toro’s Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth, Laura never makes you want to miss a beat of what she might do or say. No matter how far she’ll go to find her little boy, we’ll want to stay at her side, even if it’s down into (cue music) the cellar!

Juan Antonio Bayona | Mexico/Spain | 2007 | 105 minutes | 15