Studio: New Line Home Video
US Rating: R - Some Disturbing Content
Film Length: 105 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Audio: Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Spanish DTS-ES Discrete, Spanish Stereo Surround
Subtitles: Optional English and Spanish
The Film - out of
The ghost story is always familiar, having principle elements which inform its creepy unfolding. The settings are variations on a theme, with rare exception, and the best of them are riddled with a mystery that unravels with thrilling intensity. When they’re good, they are incredible pieces of cinema. Think of the marvels of this genre, like 1980’s The Changeling, The Sixth Sense, and even the more recent The Ring.
In 2007, hailing from the same vein as The Others and oddly compared to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is the frightening The Orphanage, a Spanish language ghost story directed by Juan Antonio Bayona working from a script by Sergio G. Sánchez. It has found a loyal audience and achieved success even in the US where films with subtitles are too often relegated to a few of the smallest movie screens dotted around only the larger cities.
The story focuses on Laura (Belén Rueda), an orphan who, many years after being adopted, chooses to move her family back to the old orphanage to set it up as a home for disabled children. Soon after moving in, her young son Simon begins to see imaginary friends. Concern over these imaginary friends grows and strange incidents arise, but the worst is yet to come as Simon disappears and Laura tries to find him. She even seeks the assistance from a group of parapsychologists in one of the films most excruciatingly intense and memorable moments.
The Orphanage is a success. Not because it redefines the ghost story, but because it celebrates the traditions of great mysteries in the ghost genre and so effectively maintains a white knuckle level of tension that it is easy to forget it isn’t real. The film’s production values are superb, with hauntingly simple camera movements soaking up the fantastic locations (both the house and the coastal setting). The film is driven by the fascinating and thrilling mystery at the heart of the story and by the superb performances from Belén Rueda and the disconcerting Montserrat Carulla as Benigna. In a remarkable supporting role is Geraldine Chaplin, a well known and well respected staple of Spanish cinema. She adds a weight and integrity to her role as Aurora, and lifts a great scene into perfection.
As Ghost stories go, The Orphanage is certainly among the most engaging in recent memory, enough even to supplant the disappointment of recent excursions into this terrain such as The Messengers and the unusually unscary The Return. Where others have failed, seeking to elevate style over substance and negate the characters in favor of the concept, The Orphanage could easily be considered a character study that just happens to scare your pants off. Each character is defined, explored and understood to the point that their actions are not simply obligatory instigators of superfluous jumps, but logical and acceptable events that are almost as we would do if we were unfortunate enough to be in their shoes. Credit must be given to both the writer and director for being patient enough to see the characters served well and for not insisting on a metronomic appearance of flashlights in the dark, creepy corridors or strange sounds every five minutes to keep audiences engaged. They use the lure of the characters and the intrigue of the moment to keep our attention firmly locked on the screen – even when we are trying to hide behind our hands and keep our fingers in our ears at the same time.
The score by Fernando Velázquez is another highlight. Not as memorable as James Newton Howard’s incredibly effective The Sixth Sense or Alejandro Amenábar’s obeisant derivative of that score in The Others, but it supplies a warmth and an understated splendor where appropriate, never pushing us emotionally too far in any direction, rather letting us find the way ourselves.
New Line Home Video brings us The Orphanage in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. The image is very sharp, clean, and even vibrant in its darker tones. The quality of the image is really quite superb; a great film is given the proper treatment with this release. The film exists in grey and blue tones, similar in many ways to the color palette found in Pan’s Labyrinth. The film looks great, you won’t be disappointed.
The sound options are enough to make even the most ardent film fans salivate. You will find not only a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track, you can also experience the full glory of DTS ES 6.1. The sound quality is fantastic, with natural and crisp dialogue focused in the center channel, the subtlety and simmering score breathing through the front and surround channels and the impressive directional and rear effects raising the hairs on the back of your neck. Of course, when the rain falls, thunder bellows and old doors creak, you hear and feel it all the way to your bone.
When Laura Grew Up: Constructing the Orphanage - (17:36) – In Spanish with English subtitles, this feature covers a surprising amount of ground. The story, characters, actors, direction and visual effects are all discussed by the principles involve.
Tomas Secret Room: The Filmmakers - (10:15) – This extra, broken into five chapters, covers the director, the score, art direction, visual effects and the creation of the clever title sequence. Again, presented in widescreen, enhanced for widescreen TV’s and in Spanish with English subtitles. Each are short but crammed with good information.
Horror in the Unknown: Make-up Effects - (9:22) – An interesting peak at the creation of the several make-up effects used in the film. The make-up effects artists, David Marti and Montse Ribe share a good number of observations and memories from filming.
Rehearsal Studio: Cast Auditions and Table Read - (3:42) – A look at the rehearsals but nothing about auditions or a table read – so this extra does not contain what the title promises.
Still Gallery – The still gallery is broken into six sections, covering the cast, make-up effects, set design and location, black and white photography, production and conceptual art. You can manually navigate by selecting thumbnail images or view as a slideshow.
Marketing Campaign – Here you can view the US and Spanish theatrical teaser and full trailers as well as view 12 poster designs for the film.
Sneak Peaks – Trailers for Pan’s Labyrinth, Amusement, The Sickhouse, One Missed Call and Otis
The Orphanage is not the redefining of the genre nor the reinvention of the ghost story, it is simply a superbly crafted film that succeeds as both a viscerally scary piece of cinema and a wonderfully enthralling mystery to be unlocked. The Orphanage has some critical elements of scary movies, with dark caves, a big creaky house with dusty rooms, a scary basement and an unknown threat that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It really is splendidly and chillingly scary – with dramatic performances serving the story well and an ending that for me, elevated the entire experience beyond what you might be expecting.