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DVD REVIEW:  The Orphanage

As of late, after having watched several documentaries about haunted orphanages and “children of the grave”, I have found myself intensely interested in this particular variety of hauntings. Always fascinated with paranormal subject matter and a firm believer in the existence of the supernatural, stories focused around apparitions hold a special allure for me. It is not so much the mere chilling concept of spirits lingering between worlds, unable to rest, but the fact that the stories behind why they remain behind instead of crossing over are often far more disturbing the existence of the ghosts themselves.

The violence and immense sadness, the hatred, pain, anger and betrayal, that often causes these spirits to cling to the physical world is the true horror within the tales. In instances where children are involved, and in the case of orphanages large numbers of children ranging from infants to teenagers, it is often reported that the hauntings can be much more severe in magnitude. Is it the travesty of ones so young having perished under crude and criminal circumstances that causes these young souls to make themselves known to the world of the living with such intensity? Or is it that children have the capacity to feel pain and suffering as adults have trained themselves to deny and stifle with age? Whatever the cause may be, one cannot deny the chilling impact of ghost stories centered around orphanages.

In the 2008 Spanish horror film THE ORPHANAGE, acclaimed director Juan Antonio Bayona attempts to capture just such a ghost story. A woman named Laura (Belena Rueda) returns with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) to reopen the seaside orphanage where she lived as a young girl. Shortly after arriving, Simon begins “inventing” imaginary friends who soon begin to take on a life of their own. After Simon vanishes during the opening day celebrations, Laura begins to unearth the horrible events that occurred after her departure from the orphanage. Her discoveries lead her down dark and twisted path into a past filled with murder and despair as she searches desperately for her lost son.

In so very many ways, Bayona masterfully sculpted a modern version of a traditional ghost tale. However, despite the fact that the famous director Guillermo Del Toro himself presented this film with the highest of praises, I could not help but feel that this film fell just short of spectacular. Filled with gorgeously gothic images of the eerie coastal orphanage with its low-lit darkly painted halls and discolored stone walls, and leaden skies over a cold and angry ocean, THE ORPHANAGE was visually beautiful. Add to this a cast of exceptionally talented actors who brilliantly delivered each and every of the sparse lines throughout the film, and a classically disturbing tale of murdered children and it truly should have been one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

However, the exorbitant length of plot build caused the movie to move at such a snail’s pace that I found myself a bit disappointed. From a directorial perspective, I could not help but feel that a good twenty minutes or so of the movie could have been eliminated which would have still allowed for enough suspenseful tension and mystery while keeping the audience firmly engaged in the storyline. Especially towards the end of the film where I saw, at least in my opinion, two places where the movie could have been ended that would have left the audience with a sufficient sensation of closure, but instead the movie drags out a bit in order to give it a “happier” ending. And I don’t this film should have had a “comforting” ending, no matter how disturbing it truly is when one steps back from it (don’t worry, I won’t tell you what happens).

However, despite this one criticism, I thoroughly enjoyed THE ORPHANAGE for what is: an artistic, classic ghost story. This film flows across the screen with the darkness of a Tchaikovsky composition or the distant rumble of a thunderstorm, which you can sense will bring devastation upon its arrival. If only that arrival came a bit sooner, the full impact of the film would be superb.

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