Here we are at the end of my little Halloween run, and to finish things off, I saved the least-viewed movie for last. I hope it will give you all something a little different to watch this season. The Orphanage (produced by Guillermo del Toro), is Spanish director JA Bayona's 2007 feature-length premiere. Not only is it a first-rate ghost story with plenty of chills, but it is a surprisingly heartfelt and moving picture as well.
The Orphanage is based on a traditional Spanish ghost story. It is about Laura (played excellently by Belén Rueda), a woman who grew up in a seaside orphanage and returns with her family to run a special school for disabled children. Her son, Simón, soon makes some imaginary friends who love to play, and their games unearth a long-forgotten mystery that endangers Laura and her family.
I've noticed that I'm pretty good at reducing these types of movies into awful synopses, but this really is a good movie. I guess I just don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. Be warned that I won't be so considerate from here on, so continue reading at your own risk. What first gets me about this movie is the beautifully sombre visuals that create such a palpable feeling of foreboding. There is an uneasiness right from the get go that continues throughout. Aesthetically speaking, it pulls off being a traditional ghost story very well. But what I really like about it is how it differs from that formula later on.
From the moment Simón disappears Laura's journey is one of confrontation with the unresolved past. What I love is how hard it works to make you think it is really about forces supernatural. But really, the only ghosts here are memories, and guilt the only restless spirit. In that sense, we all live in our own private ghost stories. This is what separates The Orphanage from all the Insidious's and Sinister's out there: it resonates with something everybody has experienced. It reaches us on a personal level, bringing back those private demons we usually try to keep buried.
Given that, The Orphanage is then free to become a much more emotionally valid movie than just the petty ghost flick it could have been. It is truly heartbreaking at times, and quite moving. Laura's relentless search for Simón becomes more and more tragic as the movie goes on. Often there is no thought of the supernatural as we see Laura in her grief. Then there are moments of real terror. Of course the two (raw emotion and gripping suspense) are married splendidly as the film climaxes, making it truly unique in its class. It goes beyond being just a spooky yarn or a devastating tale of loss. It poignantly blends the two, turning the feeling of foreboding into longing and, at last, to a powerful catharsis. It blends grief with hope and finds peace.
Okay, maybe you don't want to spend your Halloween on something so meaty, but I think it is definitely worth it. It is the truly satisfying kind of story, made all the more enjoyable for how it really haunts you.
That will do it for my Halloween extravaganza. Let me know what you thought, maybe what I should have included. I think next time I'll go over the new one due out tomorrow from the Wachowski's, Cloud Atlas.
by Chase Harrison