Forgotten Films: The Orphanage (2007)
This is the 99th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
This week I want to do a horror film that many people have not seen, even though it was released just a few years ago and is associated with Guillermo del Toro. The Orphanage was produced by del Toro and directed by his friend Juan Antonio Bayona from a screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez. It is a very effective haunted house film that, like The Haunting, relies more on tension and atmosphere than cheap special effects. It was made on a relatively low budget ($4,000,000 according to Wikipedia) and earned back $11,000,000. The film made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival where it was well received.
Laura (Belén Rueda) is a former orphan who lived in an orphanage down by the sea shore. She has grown older, married Carlos (Fernando Cayo), adopted a child Simón (Roger Princep) and come back to the orphanage to set up a home for disabled children. There have been interesting incidents at the orphanage in its past but Laura does not seem to remember them. Things are set in motion when a social worker Benigna Escobeda (Montserrat Carulla) shows up with Simón’s adoption file which includes the fact that he is HIV positive. Benigna is turned away indignantly by Laura who is aware of the condition. Later Laura catches her snooping in the house late at night. Police are called but Benigna escapes.
Soon the home is to open and there is a big party. Simón does not want to attend. He has an imaginary friend Tomás and he wants to go to Tomás’ little house. Laura gets impatient with him, slaps the boy and returns to the party. Soon she notices that Simón is missing
Searches are made, police are called but Simón is not found. Inquiries turn up film which shows a much younger Benigna working at the orphanage while Laura was there. Benigna had a son, Tomás , who was disfigured and tortured by the other children after Laura was adopted. One day a trick they play on the boy leads to him drowning in a cave by the sea.
Laura and Carlos continue searching for the boy with no luck. Laura begins checking into mystic means of locating him. This leads to a séance in the house conducted by Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) which reveals the spirits of children living in the house. Laura keeps looking and one day when crying to heaven for help, a window shatters leading her to a window box, which contains dolls of five children named after orphans that Laura knew as well as a photo of Simón and Laura. This leads to a picture album and a rose, which leads to a rose bush and a piece of cloth. Other discoveries lead Laura to a makeshift crematory where portions of five bodies are found.
The final 30 minutes are pretty well done with Laura exploring the spirits of the house and looking for Simón. As I said earlier, it is more psychological than visceral but still quite well done.
So, if you are looking for a great horror film and do not let subtitles drive you away (the film is in Spanish), then you have gone to the correct home. And the music by Fernando Velasquez is pretty creepy also. Unfortunately there has been no domestic release of the soundtrack, though a Spanish version was released.
The DVD is easily available from the usual place. Amazon has it available for $5 as I type this though who knows whether that will change. It is worth a watch so check it out.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.