Movie Reviews 239 – The Orphanage (2007)

The OrphanageRare is the horror movie that perfectly blends elements of terror with human drama to achieve near “perfect movie” status. The Orphanage is one of those rare gems. Yes, it is clearly a horror movie from the outset with distinctly creepy things going on, but it is also the story of a mother’s love for her sickly child and that is the premise that overrides the movie from beginning to final frame.

Largely associated with Guillermo Del Toro who produced it, credit goes to director Juan Antonio Bayona and especially to writer Sergio Gutiérrez Sánchez for creating this tantalizing and touching Spanish movie while performing that acute balancing act between drama and horror.

A former orphan herself, Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband bought her former orphanage mansion and while living in it now as their home she hopes to create a new orphanage. Her own son Simón is adopted and recently learned he was not their own child after a mysterious visit by an elderly woman claiming to be a social worker who brings the news that Simón is HIV positive. Rattled and not wanting to hear more, Laura brusquely puts the woman to the door, only to later find her scampering the mansion grounds at night. At a party the next day Simón disappears without a trace. The only hint is a mysteriously child with a bag-like head covering that Laura encountered at the party. But no one can recall the child other than Laura.

Six months later, Laura is a disheveled mess, desperately still searching for her son. She chances upon the mysterious social worker one day in the streets of the city only to see her die before her very eyes. As the police pry into the woman’s past they discover that she had prior ties to the old orphanage which included a disfigured son named Tomás who often wore a bag-like covering to hide his features.

Laura resorts to a local psychic Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) despite her husband’s reluctance and this only begins to tear the couple apart. But once alone, Laura begins to find clues to the mystery and eventually we learn the horrific truth of what happened that day.

Don’t be fooled by the boogeyman aspect to the plot as the film is built upon intricate threads and even the most innocuous of events become relevant as the story unfolds until the end. It’s not what we think. It’s worse. Because the horror of a missing child is more abhorrent than any monster, perceived or otherwise.

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