The Orphanage is something of a throwback, a horror movie made in the vein of movies that relied on suspense and atmosphere to scare you and not simply gore and violence. A purely Spanish product it is a slow burn that carefully builds its way towards the payoff.
The film centers on a mother who has moved into the home that used to house the very orphanage she grew up in. Together with her husband and son she intends to reopen the orphanage as a home for children with special needs. Her plans are interrupted when her own child vanishes causing her to spend the next several months searching for him, all the while strange events begin happening in her house.
The beginning of this movie builds relationships, which is a smart move since it is their emotions and connections to each other that make this movie work. Despite the language barrier I found that I could empathize with the characters, and as a special mention I felt the son, Simon, acted very well and avoided becoming an annoying child. When he vanished I actually felt sad. It shows you a glimpse into their happy lives before unveiling information such as the boy’s illness and other such tidbits. The only weak spot here is the husband’s turn later in the film; he goes from being an interesting supporting character to someone who simply falls back from the spotlight. Then again the film is about the mother, but when he began to appear less I also missed his presence.
The cinematography and lighting are amazing. When the movie wishes to be creepy it does so well, and other times I was pulled in by how beautiful the house looked, but not distracted. If the music had matched as well as the scenery it would have been a more cohesive atmosphere, not to say the music is bad, simply not as good as it could have been.
I would also mention that the film does resemble a few other films, including Poltergeist and for a short while it seemed like it was going to keep on with the same plan but then it veered away into its own territory. To the point that it does occasionally feel a bit uneven; however I was never tempted to turn away and never lost interest in the film.
Looking back it seems like I had a lot of problems with this movie, but that is not the case. It is well worth a watch, and while it isn’t the best movie ever, it is an effective old school horror movie that deserves a lot of respect. The Orphanage gets a 3/5.