Monday, October 12, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 12: The Orphanage

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

When it made its rounds to Minneapolis indie theaters, my parents, being the cinephiles that they are, went and saw Spanish horror flick the Orphanage on its opening weekend. My mom, a special ed teacher, was especially interested in the tale of a haunted home for special needs children and was willing to brave the horror genre trappings promised by the trailers. Ultimately, it wasn't enough and her distaste for horror movies meant she didn't have as good a time as she hoped. Since then, it's been on my radar (or rather, in my Netflix queue) and years of recommendations and entreaties to watch it from friends have coalesced with this month's feature to finally bring it to my screen.

Orphanage deals with Laura, a woman who bought the orphanage she was raised in and has plans to revamp it into a home for special needs kids. However, her adopted son Símon has begun acting odd and his imaginary friends are becoming a bigger and bigger part of his life. Eventually, on the day of the orphanage's reopening, Símon disappears, and it looks like his friends may be somewhat less imaginary than we have been led to believe. What ensues is an eerie search on Laura's part for her son and the unraveling of a mystery that goes back to her childhood.

As a ghost story, Orphanage draws a lot of inspiration from those that have come before it. There's a lot of Turn of the Screw present here (and for good reason, director Juan Antonio Bayona had lead actress Belén Rueda watch film adaptation the Innocents before filming began) and if anything this movie reminds of those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that we all read as kids, remember those? They were scary (the Google image search freaked me out, for crissakes) and macabre but were still children's stories. All the elements of a child's ghost story are present here: the spooky house, the crazy old lady, the deformed kid who wears a mask, and then some. The story of a mother's search for her missing child and her eagerness to do anything to protect him reminds me of other strong-woman-centric genre pictures: Laura reminds me of Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor. This one was a Guillermo del Toro production and shares his fascination with children and the ending shares a lot with his own Pan's Labyrinth, in my opinion. My mom may not have liked it but Orphanage gave me the willies in a good way.

Final verdict: 63 Congos