The Orphanage DVD Review
By Prairie Miller
The Orphanage is a physically charged but psychologically hollow occult offering from first time Spanish director, Juan Antonio Bayona. Cutting his creative teeth on commercials and music videos, Bayona masterfully shapes palpable atmosphere and mood, but his emphasis on visuals sacrifices a sense of sustained, meaningful storytelling. So what we have here is a horror rehash along the lines of, I see dead orphans.
The Good Shepherd Orphanage in question is where housewife Laura (Belén Rueda), was raised until adopted by a wealthy family. Laura is now married to Carlos (Fernando Cayo), a doctor, and they've adopted a young boy from the same orphanage. Simón (Roger Príncep) carries some complicated baggage, including an HIV positive affliction and a personal set of imaginary friends. For some reason, Laura has insisted on keeping Simon's adoption a secret from him, though he seems to know what's what anyway, and is a little more than resentful about being lied to.
One day Simon disappears and is never heard from again, during a party Laura has arranged for mentally disabled children at her lavish, though decaying seaside estate. The remainder of the film finds Laura searching desperately for Simon, and eventually meeting up with him in a parallel universe somewhere beyond death or perhaps even before birth, who knows. Geraldine Chaplin drops in briefly too, via a cameo appearance as the medium Aurora, who has a knack for coaxing the dead out of hiding.
Like a house of horrors at the local amusement park, The Orphanage is piled on with scary gimmicks galore, including murky caves, monster party masks, surreal basements, a scarecrow who stands in for a provincial bodyguard, a crash victim with half a face who comes briefly back to life to scare the audience, and a night hunt for ghosts, possibly by a fellow ghost with a menacing shovel. This supernatural tossed salad also sprinkles in some mystical hocus pocus about Peter Pan and eternal childhood, mortality reversed, and Jung's notion of the subconscious as a get-together hangout between the dead and the living.
The Orphanage is just too ethereal and fanciful to mean much of anything, in particular the case of the mysterious HIV affliction. Bayona could have benefited substantially by getting his head out of the clouds, and focusing on a less circuitous, more emotionally penetrating story.
Warner Home Video
DVD Features: Featurettes: When Laura Grew Up: Constructing The Orphanage; Tomas' Secret Room; Horror in the Unknown: Makeup Effects; Rehearsal Studio: Cast Auditions and Table Read; Still Galleries: Cast, Make-up Effects, Design, Black-and-White Photography, Production, Conceptual Art; Scene Selections; Spanish and U.S. Theatrical Trailers, Teasers and Posters; Sneak Peeks.
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