Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Orphanage, directed by J. A. Bayona

Spain (Spanish), 2007
105 min, drama, thriller, horror
Directed by J. A. Bayona
Starring Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, and Roger Príncep

For Halloween, I thought I would review one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen

Laura returns to the now-abandoned orphanage where she spent her childhood, planning to open a home for disabled children with her doctor husband, Carlos. They bring along their son, Simón who doesn't yet know that he is HIV positive and adopted. 

Soon after arriving in their new home, Simón begins acting strangely. He suddenly has new, invisible friends, who reveal the secret of his adoption and his illness to him. After a fight with his mother during their business's opening party, Simón disappears. Laura will stop at nothing to find her son, and in the process discovers the secrets hiding behind her childhood in this house.

Children and Ghosts

Like many other horror movies, this film features children communicating with the dead. But it isn't Simón's age that allows him to talk to the ghost children; rather, it is his HIV. Apparently having a serious, possibly deadly illness brings people closer to the other side. The child ghosts don't want to hurt him, it seems; they tell him about his adoption and illness, play with him, and show him secret places in the house and surrounding areas. He is not afraid of them. 

Laura, on the other hand, finds the ghosts terrifying. No wonder, since one of them seriously injures her and she thinks they kidnapped her son. She tries to overcome her fear of them and join in their play to find out where Simón is, even remaking the house to look just like it did when she was growing up. Even though she knows the identity of the ghosts, she is terrified because she thinks they are keeping her son away from her.

I love how this movie makes references to Peter Pan. Just like the Lost Boys, the ghosts will never grow up. They just want to grow up. (Highlight to reveal spoilers) And Laura is Wendy, who has come back all grown up to take care of them. 


This movie is remarkable because of its atmosphere of gothic realism. Are these noises from real, normal sources, or are they caused by ghosts? Are there ghosts, really, or is Laura being driven crazy by her search? If that's the case, then how does she keep finding clues to his whereabouts? The terror, for me, comes from the ordinariness of the setting and not knowing if the supernatural is just around the corner. 

My husband did not find this movie scary at all! He thought it was a wonderful movie, and a well-done drama. He thought it demonstrated the power of beliefs: Laura believes in ghosts, so she believes they are there, but Carlos does not, so he is skeptical. So it all depends on the perspective of the viewer. 

The ending is one of my all-time favorite movie endings. The joy and peace of Laura's reunion with the other children, as a Wendy character who is grown up and will take care of them and tell them stories- it makes the terror of the rest of the movie worth it for me. Highly recommended, even for those who, like me, don't usually enjoy horror films. 

Further Reading: 

"J.A. Bayona and Sergio Sanchez on The Orphanage" by Alex Vo (Rotten Tomatoes) 
Interview with J.A. Bayona by Nick Dawson (Filmmaker Magazine)
Subtly Terrifying, Just Like Real Life by John Anderson (New York Times) 

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