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 theres 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 Mexicos Guillermo del Toro (Pans 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.Barries classic Peter Pan legend of the lost boys.
Led by Belen Rueda (The Sea Inside), the performances are totally believable, augmented by Oscar Fauras 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.