El Orfanato (The Orphanage) (2007)
Reviewed on 2008 May 29
When I sit down to watch anything that Guillermo del Toro had his hands in, I debate whether I’ll need Kleenex® or a teddy bear to hug. For this one, I could have used both.
Laura (Belén Rueda) wants to transform the orphanage where she grew up into a home for children with special needs, and she sets out to do this with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their little son Simón (Roger Príncep). They want to give their child and others a wonderful life. The simple plan to keep Simón happy and share their home may come to a screeching halt, though. Simón always had some imaginary friends, and one day he comes home from a walk on the rocky shore telling her of a new friend: Tomás.
Simón knows a lot about Tomás, and — worse — some other things about the orphanage that he should have no way of knowing. Soon Laura comes to believe the orphanage is haunted. Carlos is a good man but even he has a hard time believing his wife, even when Simón is in danger.
This could have been a C-grade slam dunk, with a creepy little kid in a creepy big house. It’s interesting that Simón is adorable, and the orphanage from Laura’s childhood wasn’t a sinister place, but instead a rather beautiful home where she could play with her friends. Director Juan Antonio Bayona bucked tradition by giving us the pretty building on a beach, yet could still turn up the creep factor when he needed to. Write Sergio G. Sánchez then gets his back by giving Laura a good reason to stay there despite the fact she thinks it’s haunted. This is a smart haunted house movie, and just a good tale.
Three chocolate morsels.