Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Orphanage (2007)

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The Orphanage may be the most truly horrifying film released this decade. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, who directed last year's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage is another touching story that maintains a constant sense of mystery. The story is focused on Laura, played by Belen Rueda, who purchases the orphanage she was raised in and intends to return it to a house to raise orphaned children. After moving in, her son Simon begins to act strangely and then disappears. Laura's search for her son leads to countless scares involving supernatural and psychological events. Reuda portrays a frantic mother in a desperate struggle to find Simon with a strong performance. Although it is at times over the top, Laura is a sympathetic and very likable character, which is important to the advancing plot. Other notable performances include a creepy turn by the young Roger Princep as Simon and a chilling, memorable performance by Montserrat Carulla as Benigna, a mysterious figure that shows up at Laura's house one afternoon before Simon disappears. The star of the film, however, is the director Juan Antonio Bayona, who has created a template for how to make a film loaded with scares without using blood, gore, or typical Hollywood horror cliche. There are many real, jump-out-of-your-seat scares, and even more scenes when a scare is expected but doesn't come. The pacing is perfect, as simple scenes are shot so that every viewer will be sitting on edge waiting for something terrible to happen. With the exception of one short, nightmarish scene that includes gore, the cinematography, pacing, and sound create the spooky atmosphere. The plot unfolds beautifully, and the conclusion may be somewhat ambiguous but is near perfect. The audience will be greatly satisfied as each viewer is rewarded for having survived the horror with a plot that completes the circle of many aspects of the plot. There are some scenes which are debatable for what exactly happened, but make no mistake, the topic of conversation about The Orphanage will be the nightmares it induces. Many will be sleeping with the lights on, waiting to see what Juan Antonio Bayona comes up with next.

Good for: horror fans, mystery fans, people who like foreign films, a date

Bad for: easily frightened people, those afraid of the Boogeyman, people disturbed by scary movies, people who do not like to read subtitles

The Writer * * *

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