Haunting and heartbreaking, The Orphanage delivers a double whammy of chills both real and supernatural. Set in a crumbling children's home recently reopened by ex-resident Laura (Belén Rueda), this Spanish haunted house movie begins its assault after Laura's son Simón (Roger Príncep) vanishes on a sunny afternoon. Convinced Simón's stories about imaginary friends in the spooky building prove he's been spirited away by malevolent ghosts, Laura embarks on a quest to retrieve him that will push her to the limit of sanity.
"Seeing is not believing", explains a medium (Geraldine Chaplin) as this emotionally draining movie casts its deadly spell, "it's the other way around". Artfully directed by debut filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona (under the watchful eye of producer Guillermo Del Toro), the film invites us to follow Laura on her torturous journey: either she's losing her marbles or the orphanage hides a dark, supernatural secret. Weaving together understated references to Peter Pan, The Turn of the Screw and Poltergeist, The Orphanage stands as one of the most beautiful and moving horror movies in recent memory.
"CREEPING, UNDEFINED DREAD"
It's full of scares, too: a tense séance sequence triggers unnerving bumps in the night; a gory traffic accident proves shockingly unexpected; and a small child, snorting like a pig beneath a hideous sack mask hints at creeping, undefined dread. Leading us into another world through doors, caves and tunnels, Bayona proves adept at bleeding fairy tale into horror and gains mileage in the fright stakes with his unfamiliar (to English audiences at least) cast and Spanish locations. As it gears up for a truly unexpected, emotionally draining finale - destined to please or frustrate depending on how nihilistic you like your horror - this elegant ghost story ignores genre conventions to deliver a touching tale of motherhood, love and what may or may not lie on the other side.
The Orphanage is out in the UK on 28 March 2008.