Film review – The Orphanage (2007)

The Orphanage is a stylish Spanish horror/drama produced by Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, first time feature film director and something of a del Toro protégé.

The orphanage at the centre of the film has been recently bought by Laura, a woman who lived there as a child before being adopted. As an adult Laura moves to her old home with her husband and their adopted child Simon to reopen it and care for disabled children. But as Simon’s behaviour grows increasingly peculiar Laura discovers that echoes of her childhood at the orphanage remain and that her old friends may not have had the happy life that she did.

A particularly nasty revelation towards the end of the film is unsatisfactorily softened by a series of patience-draining false endings but otherwise The Orphanage is well crafted. It never achieves the type of thrills to satisfy hardcore horror fans but it will appeal to audiences who enjoyed films such as The Sixth Sense, The Others and del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone. Like those films The Orphanage uses the supernatural to heighten anxieties over children in danger. 

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 305, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008