Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Orphanage, (El Orfanato) Review

When a film is 'presented by' someone it usually means one of two things. Firstly that the film maker doing the presenting is the 'hot shit' of the moment, that they can do no wrong and their mere name attached to something will double the box office. Secondly, if the presentee is worth their sodium, the project will be very much of the type that they would have been happy to make. In the case of Guillermo Del Toro presents The Orphanage both such cases are correct.

The film tells the story of Laura (Belen Reuda) and her return to the orphanage of her childhood. Now a mother herself she brings her family back to the old home to re-open it as a school for handicapped children. When her son starts to play act with his new 'imaginary friends' he finds around the house things take a turn for the worst. Soon the child is missing and Laura will do anything to find him again, including venturing into the spiritual world.

There is a hell of lot to recommend this film. The story is compellingly told and should keep the most questioning audience member guessing. The acting is top draw, the design creepy and the jumps come at all the right moments. To tell too much would be to spoil the plot (and I only spoil the plot for films that I want to, i.e bad films) but suffice to say the mystery element is one of the storngest characteristics of the film.

Having won awards for his short films Spainish director Juan Antonio Bayona is not unaccustomed to having praise heaped on him and with his first major film the kudos are still coming. And rightly so. With The Orphanage he has constructed an intriguing ghost story that, while at times may slip down the occasional plot hole and take a quick trip down cliche alley, holds itself high as one of the best of its type since, well, The Devils Backbone.

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