Saturday, January 12, 2008
Yesterday I caught up with Juan Antonio Bayona's film EL ORFANATO (THE ORPHANAGE) and for the most part my reactions to it are very positive. I am certainly not as floored by it as the last film I saw with the name Guillermo Del Toro at the beginning of the credits but I wasn't expecting to be. THE ORPHANAGE is a deliberately low key and overwhelmingly creepy ghost story that feels refreshingly out of place with most CGI driven thrill a minute action vehicles that are trying to pass off with horror films these days.
The Spanish born Bayona has mostly worked in music videos and short films up till now, but THE ORPHANAGE signals that the thirty-two year old director is a real talent to watch. THE ORPHANAGE achieves most of what it sets out to and minor quibbles aside I found it to be one of the more satisfactory films of 2007.
Chief to the film's success is the performance of Belen Rueda (who reminds me a bit of Maria Bello here) as Laura, the mother who loses and becomes obsessed with finding her adopted son. I remember Rueda from Alejandro Amenabar's great THE SEA INSIDE a few years ago where she was so terrific opposite Javier Bardem, and her work here is equally intelligent and driven. I was trying to imagine what a Hollywood remake of THE ORPHANAGE would be like and I am sure the first step would be casting someone half the age of Rueda with half the talent. Her performance in the film sold it at every turn to me, even in the few spots were its narrative and tone slip.
The film's locations are also extremely well handled. I haven't seen such a convincing haunted house since THE OTHERS several years back, and the photography by the very talented Oscar Faura remains consistently creepy throughout.
THE ORPHANAGE isn't perfect. Parts of the script by Sergio Sanchez feel a little forced and it has a section involving Geraldine Chaplin that feels a bit contrived and confused. I also felt a little let down by the score of Fernando Velazquez. The film does such a good job at maintaining a sinister low key menace about it that Velazquez's work often feels a bit out of place or, at the very worst, really overbearing.
Nitpicking aside, THE ORPHANAGE is a great first film and I am looking forward to revisiting it on DVD. I am also excited to see what Bayona will come up with next, and I hope he continues on what looks to be a very personal and individualistic journey as there are key plot points and questions THE ORPHANAGE brings up that make it much more than just the ghost story I have described above. See it in a theater if you have a chance to discover them for yourself.
For a much better look at THE ORPHANAGE, please read this great post by my fellow blogger Mr. Peel.