The Orphanage arrives on UK shores fresh from success in its native Spain. It also comes with some pedigree in the form of its producer, Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro.
Along with her husband Carlos and young son Simón, Laura returns to live at the one-time orphanage where she spent much of her youth. Although Simón is infected with HIV and on constant medication, Laura is determined to give him as normal a life as possible. She also negates to tell him he is adopted.
Lonely and craving friendship, Simón invents an invisible friend, something Laura disapproves of. When the boy’s imagination goes into overdrive after a visit to the beach, it’s not long before reality and fantasy collide, leaving a trail of clues to the past in its wake.
Like del Toro’s 2001 chiller The Devil’s Backbone, with which the film shares some of its themes, The Orphanage tells a powerful, tragic story of the real world within a supernatural framework. A tale that would be shocking in itself is made all the more terrifying as it throws the shadows of the past into the present.
Not-so-subtle nods to the Peter Pan legend may tip off the attentive viewer that certain story elements are likely to be referenced, but do nothing to detract from them when they do emerge. In some ways the film itself almost resembles a modern fairytale, the browns and yellows of the house reminiscent of the yellowing pages of an ageing story book.
While offering a healthy dose of classic horror shocks and scares, the real chills here are offered in the closing moments, when a sickening realisation of what has been going on finally starts to grow.
The news that the film has already been optioned for a remake by a US film company (similar to the other recent Spanish horror, [REC]) should be met with some suspicion. I’d suggest you go and see this version now before it vanishes into the shadows, or at least into the vaults of the film distributors as the American version takes its place in the multiplexes.
The Orphanage opens at the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Friday 21 March – see website for details.
[REC] opens on 11 April. Read the itsonitsgone.com review.