Saturday, January 12, 2008

El Orfanato


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.

5 comments:

CG said...
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CG said...

I caught this one last night. Found it immensely enjoyable, one of the better theater experiences I've had in awhile.

Belen Rueda definitely adds a lot of credibility to the picture. And, oh man, can that woman cry or what? What did you make of her witnessing her child form run from the orphanage towards the end of the film?

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I had been wondering if this was good or not. Thanks for the review. I'll have to check out that other article on it. I've been wanting to find out more about it. We don't generally get films like this in the area I live in. I had to wait and see Pan's Labyrinth when it hit dvd.

Steve Langton said...

I'm unable to get to the cinema at the moment and, after reading your review, will keep an eagle eye out for the DVD release. I love THE OTHERS and look forward to checking out what I'm sure will be a worthy addition to the genre.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks CG,
I agree and I am not sure what I made of that shot...it really is a film that demands to be seen again...

Thanks Keith,
We typically don't get foreign films around here either so I was extremely happy when this one came here. Hope you get a chance to see it soon...

Thanks also Steve...it did remind me of THE OTHERS in spots and it is definately a valuable entry in the genre...