Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Juan Antonio Bayona - El Orfanato (The Orphanage) (2008)

I like films in which a house is a major character, and El Orfanato fits the bill precisely. Laura, with her husband and her adopted, seriously ill child, Simon, returns to the crumbling mansion, on a cliff above the sea, where she was raised as an orphan; her aim is to run it as a loving home for disabled children whose parents are in need of respite. But there seems to be something strange in the house… and then her son disappears…

El Orfanato is Bayona's first feature-length film, but it is 'presented' (whatever that means) by Guillermo Del Toro, of Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and The Devil's Backbone (among others). I liked EO a lot more than del Toro’s most recent film, Pan’s Labyrinth, which seemed to me through its magical realist treatment to trivialise a very serious subject, the Spanish Civil War. This film dealt with the personal rather than the political, (hence) much more successfully. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s visually beautiful. The atmosphere is very well done; there are genuinely frightening moments, but it isn’t a typical modern day thriller in which we’re constantly kept on the edge of our seats through hackneyed chase scenes, ‘jump’ moments and screeching violins. Both atmospherically and in terms of subject matter, it reminded me of other films which I have a lot of time for like The Others or Haunted. Finally, it goes beyond the typical haunted house genre in that the intentions of the ‘ghost,’ and the way in which the narrative resolves itself, are by no means predictable.

El Orfanato is not a wildly original film, or one which leaves you thinking; but it’s a very aesthetically satisfying experience, which does what it does very well.

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