The Orphanage

Movie Information

In Brief: A couple and their adopted son move into the old orphanage where the wife spent her early childhood, planning to turn it into a school for children with special needs. However, the son disappears at a party -- in a manner that suggests his possibly not-so-imaginary friend was involved -- and things turn into an ever more feverish effort to find the child, revealing a dark secret about the orphanage.
Genre: Ghost Story Horror
Director: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Geraldine Chaplin
Rated: R

J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (2007) shares the distinction with Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) of being one of those very rare films that crossed the subtitle barrier to become generally popular with both horror and art film fans. The del Toro brand—he served as executive producer and rated a “presents” title—no doubt helped, and there’s something of the del Toro feel about Bayona’s extremely creepy ghost story. For that matter, there’s something of Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others (2001) about it. But when all is said and done, Bayona’s film is much more straightforward in its horror than Amenábar’s, and much more plot-driven than del Toro’s. There are several mysteries at the heart of The Orphanage—and on a single viewing, chances are you won’t beat the film to the punch. It’s one of those films where the delight of a second viewing comes from seeing just how clearly all the elements of the mystery are given, but without the filmmaker ever telegraphing their importance. The overall story—a couple moves into an old orphanage (once home to the wife) with their HIV-positive adopted son, only to seemingly lose him to his new “imaginary” friend when he disappears at an open-house party for the disabled children they plan on taking in. As a plot, this is no more than serviceable. But Bayona uses the situation to build the film to a fever pitch, with the tension and the stakes ratcheted up at every turn—including one incredibly jarring shock effect, and perhaps the most unsettling séance ever committed to film. It’s perhaps too new to call The Orphanage a classic, but I suspect it’ll be around long enough to get there.

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Orphanage on Thursday, May 17, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “The Orphanage

  1. Xanadon't

    one of those very rare films that crossed the subtitle barrier to become generally popular with both horror and art film fans.

    Let the Right One In is of course another instance of this that jumps to mind. Both films are extremely atmospheric and both elicit strong feelings of sadness atop the standard emotional responses that a good horror film generates. And the same can be said of Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone which, come to think of it, received a “Pedro Almodovar Presents” upon its release a few years prior.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Sort of a stretch with Backbone, which didn’t play many places and never got near breaking a million. (It was advertised at the Fine Arts, but it never opened after soft box office elsewhere ruled it out.) Let the Right One In at least made it 2 million. The Orphanage, on the other hand, broke 7 million. That still leaves it about 30 million shy of Pan.

  3. Xanadon't

    I was interpreting “to become generally popular” in a broader sense, meaning DVD sales and the high regard in which those films are generally held. Certainly Backbone received much more word of mouth exposure only after Pan’s Labyrinth brought del Toro’s name to everyone’s attention. It’s box office numbers don’t surprise me a bit.

    But I would’ve guessed Let the Right One In made twice what it did. But then again I’m now realizing that it didn’t fully land on my radar until it appeared in your top 10 list for the year.

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