Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Orphanage - Friendly Ghosts

The Orphanage - Laura moves into a mansion with her loving husband and adorable, curly haired adopted son, Simon. The new home is the orphanage in which Laura lived as a young girl, and her relationships with her son, her husband and the rational world will soon be tested in this gentle horror film. Simon has "normal"invisible friends, and the house goes bump in the night, but it's not really spooky until Simon meets the unseen Tomas while exploring a cave. Just as Laura tries to welcome two mentally challenged orphans into the home with an opening day party, Simon insists on showing her where Tomas lives. When Simon won't take no for an answer, Laura goes downstairs to the party without him. Simon disappears. Laura's search for Simon carries her into a paranormal tour of her youth and the sad history of the orphanage. Geraldine Chaplin shines as a medium in a brief but critical role that puts Laura on a separate path from her husband and the police psychiatrist. Ultimately Laura finds Simon, but this film creates two endings simultaneously, both plausible within the film's carefully constructed parameters, one rational , the other spiritual.

The Orphanage does many things right. Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro cashes in on his success with Pan's Labyrinth to give a first feature film opportunity to the director, screenwriter and editor. Belen Rueda takes on a very heavy load as Laura. Horror, suspense and dramatic tension rest almost entirely on her taking maternal love to another dimension in the face of peril, fear and rational counsel. She carries the burden with ease. Her performance, and the brief but pivotal appearance by Ms Chaplin, keep the paranormal plotline credible and allow the picture to survive a story line dry spell that bogs down much of the film's second half. There is no gore here. Shock is used sparingly to good effect and suspense builds slowly, too slowly at times, to a conclusion that works on at least two levels. The final scene is essentially an unnecessary epilogue, this picture should have ended with Ms Rueda's last scene.

If you like horror and don't need gore, if you want to see something a little different, if you just want to see a great, and beautiful, actress and practice your Spanish, then try The Orphanage.

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