Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep
It’s been a number of years since giving J.A. Bayona’s eerie and emotional film, The Orphanage a good look, but the film landed on the wife’s Halloween wish list, so Sunday gave way to an overdue reunion. It’s amazing how different a film can feel after a near-decade.
On Saturday I remembered The Orphanage as a creepy flick about a haunted orphanage. On Monday morning I’m remembering The Orhanage as one of the closest displays of technical mastery available on the market.
Holy Hell… Bayona hits every note, and he’s got the pitch-perfect group of individuals in his corner helping him to do so. In front of the cameras, it’s a work of stunning impact as Belén Rueda and Fernando Cayo are perfect as parents far, far beyond concerned for their son, who’s gone missing under bizarre circumstances.
Sergio G. Sánchez puts together a screenplay that succeeds where so many others fail, in the small personal pockets where humans respond in unpredictable, but organic fashion. It’s that mysterious place where a mother believably obsesses over her missing child to the point that she’s assembling 30 year old beds where the now deceased once lay their tired heads for rest and recovery. That place where we question the motives of those who tap into a sense that is accessible by very few, where the mere mortal can encroach on the territory of the spiritual, and vice versa, and it’s understood that that is a preposterous yet perennially alluring point of interest.
Those places are challenging to the point of treacherousness, especially when it comes time to explore them on paper, and then in front of a camera, before being captured and immortalized on film.
Very few screenwriters know how to make these kinds of stories believable. Many can make these kinds of stories entertaining, and frightening, but so very few can manage believable. But that’s what Sanchez does and he simply cannot be applauded enough for that. As a parent, I can admire this teasure tireleslly while feeling the pain of a father concerned to shocking degrees for his child.
Oscar Faura’s cinematography is gorgous, Elena Ruiz is an amazing editor and Iñigo Navarro ensures the sets look stunning. I’m telling you, top to bottom this crew is wildly talented.
And what happens when everyone involved in your film is atypically endowed? You get that one in a million, absurdly special film. In hindsight, having now revisited this immediate classic, I can comfortably and without the hint of hesitation call it one of the three best horror films released in the last 10 years.
But that doesn’t mean I have absolutely zero hangups with the picture. I do. This complaint is a direct reflection of my personal reception to the film as opposed to any technical misfire I might be able to identify, however, so take it for what it’s worth.
The single complaint I can manufacture is that the picture places the sadness of the story front and center while often forgetting to deliver on the terror of it all. There are a few sequences in the film’s early goings that create palpable dread. These are riveting and genuinely disconcerting moments that send a shiver down the spine and leave you glancing around the shadowy corners of our own home. They’re brilliant and properly assembled jolts, but once the first act has wrapped, they’re all but done away with. Beyond the 30 minute mark only one true and jarring fright awaits viewers, as the story then inserts a noticeable priority on the heart wrenching aspects of the narrative over all others, most importantly and noticeable, the frights.
Perhaps others found more fear in the film as it unraveled, but for me, beyond that first act, the attempts to scare the audience feel abandoned. Being one to crave a good scare, I can say that was a bit disappointing. But not so disappointing that I can justify neglecting all of the other sublime elements of this film.
There are great films, and then there are films so moving they transcend even greatness. The Orphanage is that rare movie that accomplishes what seems like the impossible.