A haunting and emotional ghost story

January 17, 2008 at 6:09 pm 2 comments


El Orfanato (The Orphanage) is the story of a woman, Laura, who’s son goes missing, and how others react to her when it seems like she’s losing her mind. Laura and her husband have purchased the orphanage Laura grew up in as a child, hoping to take care of other children as well as their son, Simon. Simon, however isn’t happy with his living situation and makes up imaginary friends to play with. On the day that the other children arrive, Simon goes missing and Laura believes one of Simon’s friends took him.

Of course, everyone else looks to more acceptable reasons, such as kidnapping, to explain Simon’s disappearance. Laura’s husband Carlos also becomes frustrated with her actions, despite many signs pointing to some supernatural force behind the disappearance. The truth lies within Laura’s past and her connection to the orphanage she spent her childhood at.

El Orfanato reminds me a lot like The Sixth Sense, not because of any tricks or ‘twists’ or anything like that. They are similar because the story really is about something else. In The Sixth Sense, the story was about communication, about loved ones who can’t talk to each other for one reason or another, all against the backdrop of this supernatural story. In El Orfanato, the story is about the love of a mother for her child set against this story of a missing child. There is real emotional weight to this film, which elevates it beyond typical slasher movies that are made to incite a gag reflex from its audience.

The scares in this film are also not your typical ‘jump-out-and-scare-you’ stuff you find in other horror films. Actually, to call it a horror film is to do it a disservice; it is a drama with supernatural elements. And while there are some ‘boo’ moments, much of the film’s creepiness comes from psychological scares, from the nerve-racking moments where you are more afraid of the dark than what the darkness hides. The cinematography and the set design help tremendously. The camera movements, colors, and the orphanage itself all give the movie a creepy atmosphere. This is not your stereotypical haunted house with cobwebs hanging everywhere and spooky pictures of old people hung up on the walls. The house feels like a real manor, an old house that is being renovated for modern times.

Although this is his first feature film, J.A. Bayona gives excellent direction, based on a first-time feature-length script by Sergio Sanchez. The way Bayona handles the pacing of the film is spectacular. Many complain that the film’s first half hour or so is slow, if it moved any faster, you might miss something, some minor detail that may have some payoff in the end. He treats his heroine, Laura, like a real woman, not like a character stuck in a haunted house movie. Bayona centers the film around her, around what she experiences. When Laura learns something, the audience learns something, and therefore we take the journey along with her.

The performances were also well-done. I don’t believe there’s anything spectacular or Oscar-worthy about the acting, but everyone does a fine job. Belen Rueda, who plays Laura, gives the best performance, naturally. The last act of the film could have been a mess if it weren’t pulled off well in the acting department. Laura is the emotional anchor of the entire story and Rueda’s performance pulls everything off nicely.

El Orfanato is a film absolutely worth checking out for fans of dramas. Those expecting a traditional horror movie will be sorely dissapointed, as evidenced by some of the negative reviews it has gotten by viewers expecting blood and guts. This film is fantastic, with genuinely creepy moments and such emotional gravitas toward the end that you forget you’re watching a scary movie.


The thesis film I’m writing right now is a lot like this film. And that sucks because now I have to go back to the drawing board.


Entry filed under: movies. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cliff Burns  |  January 17, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I guessed the main plot twist of “Sixth Sense” about ten minutes into the movie and mocked the other 2 hours. But this film, El Orfanato, looks genuinely spooky. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the post…

  • 2. littleman00  |  January 18, 2008 at 3:49 am

    Thanks for reading. While I do compare this film to others like The Sixth Sense, they are done quite differently. If you did not like The Sixth Sense, I think you still may find this one enjoyable.


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