As a movie fan all it takes is one name to get you screaming in excitement, when it comes to the Spanish horror-fantasy, THE ORPHANAGE (El Orfanato), that name is Guillermo del Toro. Although the man behind PAN’S LABYRINTH didn’t direct the film, he did produce it with Juan Antonio Bayona at the helm. What came out of the collaboration is a something right out of del Toro’s world… a sophisticated, yet gentle blend of two genres.
In the film Laura returns to the house where she was raised, and decides to transform it into an orphanage. Soon, her son, Simón, makes an invisible friend… or five. When Simón disappears at a party, Laura believes his invisible friends are behind it and takes matters into her own hands.
THE ORPHANAGE is a seemingly simple story that is actually quite complex. There are a handful of seeds set with juicy pay-offs that blossom from them. A typical del Toro horror film is based around some sort of mytho or classic fairytale; THE ORPHANAGE parallel’s the infamous tale of PETER PAN. In the film the invisible friends are children who cant grow up, just like the Lost Boys in PETER PAN while Laura is Wendy, the child who’s grown too old to go back. To dive deeper into this would ruin the film, so let that get your brain sparking. This is what makes this film so extraordinary because Bayona really does take special care in developing characters, their histories and adding extra layers that all intertwine into one engrossing story.
But what seemingly is the film’s best attribute is also its main flaw. I’m praying this isn’t a new trend in Spanish storytelling, but I’m already sick to death of these happy endings in a horror film. With a finale like this someone like Steven Spielberg would be proud, but fans of the genre won’t be so kind. When you spend the entirety of the movie sending chills down the viewer’s spines, why end the film on such a sappy and overly resolving note? To each their own I guess, and although the end didn’t work for me I’m sure the mainstream audience will leave with a smile.
It’s rare when a foreign film gets such loving treatment, but with Picturehouse’s success with PAN’S LABYRINTH it’s no surprise that the mini-studio is backing this indie delight. Although it might sound as if I’m not recommending the film, I actually do. I think THE ORPHANAGE is a wonderful little film that most people will dig. My only gripe with the movie is that I wanted it to be a horror film and not pretend to be one. If you go in expecting a fairy tale with ghosts, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.