I recently watched the 2007 film The Orphanage, directed by Juan Antonia Bayona and Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (the talented and visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth). If you like suspense, horror films – horror in the classic sense, not the slasher sense – than you will love this movie.
Bayona is a great new talent and, with the help and influence of Del Toro, he has created a unique and truly scary vision while reinterpreting and reinvigorating old school horror themes and techniques. From a chillingly haunted old house to a damp, empty basement; from creepy kids to clocks and towers; from spiritualists and mediums to imaginary friends this is a movie that will leave a lump in your throat the size of a lemon and blisters on your hands from grasping your seat with all your might.
Bayona masterfully weaves an infusion of long takes and a Del Toro-esque dancing camera with pitch perfect sound effects and music to create a wonderfully atmospheric film. He knows how to use light to his advantage – and in any horror film a masterful use of light and mood adds up to a potent formula for heart pounding, spine chilling fear. In some ways I am reminded of similar techniques of light and color and photography by Francis Ford Coppolla in films like Apocalypse Now (though of course Coppolla’s film is a differnt kind of horror film altogether). Its this atmosphere that most allows those age old horror themes to be as scary and thrilling as they are.
But The Orphanage will also makes you think and perhaps, even sorrow. It is a film about grief and loss; its about motherhood; its about outcasts and friendship and compassion. And when the final credits have rolled on by and your heart is done pounding, you may find that this is a film which will linger – both because it is truly scary and thrilling and also because it is truly moving and powerful.
The Orphanage is no typical modern horror movie. Thankfully, it is not dependent on slashing and blood and gore, it is not dependent on cheap thrills and violence. It operates through implication and intimation – and what is more terrifying for a movie-goer than suggestion? Bayona reveals little as the film goes on, until a climactic and moving ending, but each shot remains loaded, filled to the brim, with suspense.
And the fact that the film is in Spanish with subtitles only adds to the drama.
I encourage you to head out to the nearest video rental store (or surf on over to your NetFlix queue) and pick up this film. But be prepared, you may find that you need some hand lotion (and some water with that lemon) when it’s all said and done.