the orphanage | j.a. bayona | sergio g. sanchez | belen rueda | fernando cayo | roger princep | ghost | ghosts | haunted | haunted house | drama | mystery | thriller | spain | mabel rivera | montserrat carulla | andres gertrudix | edgar vivar | oscar casas | guillermo del toro
Film: The Orphanage (El orfanato)
Director: J.A. Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo and Roger Príncep
This was a film that I remember coming out while I was in college, but I didn’t get around to seeing it in theaters. Part of it was I’m not sure if played by me and if it did, I went through some weird phases where I would see things in theater and sometimes I wouldn’t. It was one I always planned on seeing, but never got around to until now when it actually played at the Gateway Film Center on 35mm. The synopsis here is a woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son communicates with an invisible new friend.
We start this with a bunch of children playing a game that is very similar to ‘Red Light’. We see that other children are approaching her until she is tagged. It turns out that one of the girls, Laura, has been adopted and going to be leaving the orphanage.
It then shifts to present day where Laura is Belén Rueda. She is moving into her former home with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their son Simón (Roger Príncep). Their plan is to reopen this place as a school for children that have disabilities. Through some interactions we learn that Simón is adopted and HIV positive. He also has a vivid imagination in that he has a bunch of imaginary friends. His parents are concerned, but hoping that when the other children move in, he’ll grow out of it.
Things get a bit weird though when Simón and Laura go to the beach together. There is a nearby cave and inside, Simón meets a new imaginary friend Tomás. This ends up turning into six new friends. Laura and Carlos just believe it is still him being lonely, but weird things start to happen around their new house.
It gets even scarier when Benigna (Montserrat Carulla) shows up. She claims to be a social worker with a file on Simón. Laura also starts to see a boy in a mask that she thinks is Tomás. When Simón goes missing at a party they’re throwing to convince parents to bring their children there, the nightmare really begins.
If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m mad at myself for waiting this long to see the film. I have seen director J.A. Bayona’s films after this and I can actually see where his talents started. I was listening to a podcast about this film and I something that struck me is when we think about Spain, we think of beaches, sun and bright colors. Bayona does a great job at making this film look ominous, overcast and just cold. That really fits the tone as well as the atmosphere.
Something else is that the Spanish have a rich religious history. I personally was raised Christian through my grandmother, a friend and my parents. My parents really didn’t push it the older I got. Plus the more science made sense to me and I turned to atheism. I only bring this up because this film has you wondering if there are ghosts or not. It presents it that there are, but for the most part, the people aren’t terrified of them. Sure Tomás has some scenes where he is, but it’s not necessarily the driving force. The ghosts seem to be helpful. Carlos is a doctor, so he doesn’t necessarily seem to think they are real where Laura does.
There is also a way to read this they aren’t real. I won’t spoil this film, but I do believe that one game that is played, you could say that Simón set it all up. There’s no actual proof that a ghost did. There are a lot of things that can be explained away, but I love the ambiguity to allow the viewer to see and believe what they want. I personally believe that they are ghosts here though, to just throw out my thoughts on it.
The last thing to cover is that the writing of this film is excellent. There are little things that play into the film later and I love when a movie can do this as well as we see here. There are certain noises and things that happen. Going farther than that, I love how ingrained in this Laura and others are in the past of this place. There’s also a moment where Simón is reading Peter Pan and I love how this also ties back in. This is interesting as Guillermo del Toro helped produce, as it does carry that dark fairy tale feel he brings.
That moves me to the pacing of the film, which I think is really good. The movie runs about 105 minutes, but it really doesn’t feel like it. It does a really good job at introducing us to characters in the original time period and then into the present. From there the mystery starts and it just gets darker as things are learned as well. This film is also quite depressing, which I tend to enjoy. The ending is bleak, but it also can be seen as happy in a sense as well.
For the acting, I don’t really have anything negative to say. Rueda is excellent here. We can see that she loves her child, but it is a lot of work with his condition and getting everything ready. She looks exhausted. On top of that though, she is also trying to open up this orphanage to help children as well. It is really a noble effort, especially since those children have disabilities. Cayo is kind of a jerk, but I also fell like he’s a rock for Laura. Príncep is an interesting child and I think he fit his role just fine. Carulla was quite creepy if I’m honest as well as Óscar Casas who is Tomás. The latter’s creepiness though is from the mask. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what is needed.
That moves me next to the effects, which if I remember correct there’s not really any. The look of the mask that Tomás is creepy and it is sad, because the reason he wears it is shown. He can’t help that and I didn’t find him scary there. It did look real just I can appreciate. I would have to say that the film is shot beautifully. They did well with the setting to make it look almost gothic which is in line with the ghost story aspect here.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. For the most part it really did fit the scenes for what was needed. There were times that it really does help to build the tension. I really want to commend though on the sound design. There are times where we hear bumps and things in the old house that makes you wonder, is it just the house shifting or something else. That gets under my skin if I’m honest.
Now with that said, this film is one that I’m mad at myself for not having seen until now. It is beautiful and haunting at the same time. It really had a sad ending, but it really is kind of happy as well. I really like how it is established and it never really wastes time there. The acting is good across the board and even though there’s not really much in the way of effects, the look of Tomás is eerie. It definitely is shot beautifully which really builds the atmosphere and the setting helps there. I also think that the soundtrack and design also helps in building the tension. I really liked this film, but I will warn you, it is from Spain so I had to watch it with subtitles on. If that is an issue, you might be able to find a dub or just avoid it all together. It is really good though so I wouldn’t recommend the latter.
My Rating: 10 out of 10