Orphanage, El Orfanato

Why do characters in movies insist on prowling around in the dark when they hear a noise even though they have a husband or wife or someone who could prowl with them? Maybe because fear is a solitary thing, and maybe because the prowling goes into “parallel perceptions”, as The Orphange does, and ultimately one must go it alone.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro (2006’s brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth), The Orphanage is a film lover’s movie because you have to be willing to stay with it and wait, letting the dread and anticipation build.

A 37- year old woman, Laura, and her husband, Carlos, move with their adopted son, Simon, into an old Victorian-style orphanage on the Spanish coast. Simon, at 7, does not know he is adopted or that he is HIV positive. Laura is herself an orphan; she and Carlos, a doctor, have bought Good Shepherd Orphanage, to make a home for themselves and five or six sick children.

But this is indeed a house of spirits; when an elderly and creepy social worker appears with Simon’s files, Simon begins friendships with make-believe friends and then goes missing in the noisy, mysterious house, and remains of children are found, unanswered questions ratchet up the audience’s tension and anxiety.

This is a supernatural/psychological and I think a religious thriller straight out of Hitchcock rather than the latest bloody horror flick. It uses James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan as a kind of framework, about a boy (and other children who don’t want to grow up, or whose opportunity to grow up is taken away.) It is smart and expertly filmed. It does take its time, though. I think it’s worth it if this is your genre. Very art house. Geraldine Chaplin plays a psychic who tries to discover what is going on in the house as the search for Simon continues. There’s an interesting dynamic between faith and superstition as well: seeing is not believing – believing is seeing. There’s a medium and a psychic on one side, and a chapel in the old orphanage of The Good Shepherd, flashbacks to prayer, and Carlos’ St. Anthony medal. He wears it because Laura believes. I am still trying to figure out what the film might have been trying to say about faith and the afterlife. A very good watch.

For actors and other details, see www.imdb.com

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