review for ‘the orphanage’

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when was the last time you can remember a horror movie being seriously considered by the Academy Awards. if we rack our brains, we can only recall The Silence Of The Lambs, way back in 1990. and while it went on to win big, it just goes to show just how much the most reactionary genre out there is generally disregarded by critics.

The Orphanage was Spain’s official selection for Best Foreign Language for this years’ Oscars, and while it was (surprise surprise) not shortlisted, its quite possibly more emotionally affecting and visually impressive than those on the list.

But perhaps this is all Guillermo Del Toro’s fault. This movie is directed and written by two generally unknowns, as well as cast of fine actors (at least in this movie), who are also equally unknown. Del Toro (acting as executive producer, the movie falling under a ‘Presents’ title for him) became a household name through his horror movies. And its his own Spanish set ghost story The Devil’s Backbone that this movie most closely resembles, and slightly suffers because of it.

in The Orphanage, a couple and their adopted son move back into the now abandoned orphanage were the mother grew up, in order to set up their own orphanage for handicapped children. but once they move in, their adopted son’s one imaginary friend soon multiplies into six, and on the opening day of the new orphanage, goes missing. this leads the couple on a long and draining journey to recover their son, using any means necessary. especially when the mother believes that her son’s many invisible friends are still in the house……

the film builds its tension slowly from the opening scene, slowly infusing many tiny subplots that don’t seem to have any meaning in their inception, but slowly dawn on the characters and the audience just how vital they are. some story and style moments are “homaged” throughout from films like Poltergeist and The Others, and the tension is jacked up every now and then by the sparse but intelligent use of jump-shocks, finally leading up to the last third of the movie, during which the pressure never lets up, and you’ll find yourself falling off the edge of your seat.

if there are any faults to be found, its within the look of the movie, being almost a carbon copy of The Devil’s Backbone, as well as a slightly-too-twee ending. but while the later is simply nit-picking, the former presents a real issue, with the director seemingly unable to find a style of his own, which might be excusable when he’s got a pro like Del Toro watching his back, but should he want to venture out on his own, might find he’s fresh out of ideas.

eight out of ten.

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