The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Review

I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this movie directed by Antonio Bayona and produced by the one and only Guillermo del Toro.  Almost all of del Toro’s other work (albeit with him in a director capacity) and so naturally I was expecting equally great things from this film.  Unfortunately, I’m rather sad to say that I came away with a rather bitter taste in my mouth.

Let me get this out of the way before I move on to discuss The Orphanage as a whole – IT IS NOT A HORROR MOVIE.  Don’t get drawn in by the hype.  Granted, it does have some exceptionally nerve-y moments that are sure to make you jump with the payoff, but it is much more akin to a psychological thriller (or an excellent haunted house film, if you want to categorise it further).

Synopsis
The film follows the story of Laura, who once dwelt in the eponymous orphanage with a bunch of other children.  Her times there were happy – so much so that the fast-forward to the future sees her purchasing the orphanage to set up a home for children with learning difficulties.  Also accompanying her are her husband Carlos and her child Simon – who himself is a child who has been adopted.

Unfortunately once in the orphanage, Simon develops more than a few imaginary friends and their games become more and more odd.  This culminates to the disappearance of Laura’s child after a revelation about his own past along with a race against time to find him.

Mood
The tone of the film is just about right all the way through, you’ll feel the warmth of a happy childhood and the terror of a lost child – it really is a rollercoaster for the emotions.  There are only a few moments that seem to be out of place really – where you’d expect a little less or a little more emotion.

Plot

Frankly, this film is similar to a number of many others – in so far that it is in fact a genuine ‘haunted house’ horror film.  There hasn’t been a great one of these out for a while, but I really feel that this is one.  Think back to the original The Haunting or arguably one of the most loved ghost stories of all time, The Changeling and you have an idea.

By the nature of the storyline, the plot must be contrived.  Simply put, it is a normal requirement of any film involving a haunting.  You can have various red herrings and foreshadowing, but it almost always comes down to a negative incident in the past.  The Orphanage is no surprise in this regard, though it may well give you some shocks, you might feel that the ending leaves you wanting more.

Part of the storyline may leave you scratching you head.  Why is this?  Well, it just seems that the death of a group of people is glossed over somewhat – I know it is meant to be some years ago but it doesn’t sit well.  Neither does the scene with Laura falling in the bath.  You’d think such violence would be a shock to a child, even one in an emotional state.

Conclusion
I’ve tried not to give too much away in the review in terms of the plot – simply because for a good ‘haunted house’ film to work, the plot points must be carefully played out with as little viewer foreknowledge as possible.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone out there.

What I will come back to however is my original comment.  I was fully aware of del Toro’s background, including the amazing Pan’s Labyrinth.  However, I still was not quite prepared for the sad ending that played out, even if there was hints of it that you will think back to after the film has ended.  The tragedy that occurred which resulted in the haunting seemed to come back full circle and it was just a little bit too much.  At least it was not over-sentimentalised, but highlighted how far a mother will go for their child.

Overall, El Orfanato is a good film and one I’d certainly recommend you view.  Don’t, however, expect something one the same level as Pan’s Labyrinth.  It doesn’t quite have the same imagination behind it, and it comes with just a few more clichés for you to enjoy.

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