“The Orphanage,” review by Susan Granger

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In this haunting, supernatural Spanish drama, a devoted mother discovers the dark secrets hidden within her childhood refuge, situated on a lonely stretch of coastline near an abandoned lighthouse.

When Laura (Belen Rueda), a sensitive nurse, and her physician husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), buy the decrepit orphanage in which she grew up, they plan to make it a home for children with disabilities. They move in with their adopted, seven year-old, HIV-infected son, Simon (Roger Princep), who soon acquires some ‘imaginary’ friends, one of whom, inexplicably, leaves a trail of seashells from the shore to their doorstep. Then there’s a sinister ‘social worker’ (Montserrat Carulla), who evidences unusual, even menacing interest in the spooky place, and a ‘medium,’ Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin), brought in to create a séance to bridge the gap between humans and the ghosts that seem to surround them as the nightmarish line between fantasy and reality fades.

Written by Sergio G. Sanchez, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona – making an auspicious feature-film debut – and produced by Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), it delves far below the surface of the ‘haunted house’ horror genre, evoking the stylish subtlety of “The Innocents” (1961), “The Haunting” (1963) and “The Others” (2001). And while there are sudden, scary jolts and dark, creepy, disturbing images, there are also underlying psychological themes of love, loss and guilt, tinged with dread, remorse and regret, epitomized by several astute allusions to J.M.Barrie’s classic Peter Pan legend of the lost boys.

Led by Belen Rueda (“The Sea Inside”), the performances are totally believable, augmented by Oscar Faura’s inventive, evocative camera work. In Spanish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Orphanage” is a suspenseful, eerie 8. Prepare to shudder – and weep.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.