The Orphanage (2007)

July 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

When you watch a Spanish horror film that turns out to have heart and intelligence you can see how there would have been pressure to produce it differently in North America.  For example, there’s a ghost of a kid who keeps appearing with a bag over his head at the end of hallways, staring at people and making weird-ass noises, and you can’t help but think that in a North American remake, there’d be some desperate race to find a way to destroy the ghost, instead of a film that — without giving away too much, hopefully — has a central character who tries to understand the kid. Sometimes you can destroy the hatred, not the hateful object. This isn’t any kind of revelation, and yet many horror films ignore the idea.

Central character Laura grew up in an orphanage and later buys that same orphanage with her husband and young adopted son, who soon finds he has a lot of imaginary friends playing more and more complicated games, and drawing him away. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, with apparent help producing it from Guillermo Del Toro, it’s interesting to watch the directors talk about how they’re interested in using fantasy to get at truth, not reality.  Some of those weird-ass noises go completely without explanation, and it’s fair to say the film develops into something more complex than most horror films.  There are one or two truly horrific scenes, but I think they serve to illustrate that it can be a frightening world, and underline that desire to shelter someone from it.  Some will find the film a little sentimental, but I think the performances and music are actually restrained, and keep the film from going over the top. I have to be careful about what I watch in horror these days, because the current trend to produce what some critics calls splatter-porn holds no appeal for me.  Fortunately, this was not a misstep, and it’s even recommended.

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