Cast : Belen Rueda, Roger Princep
Direction : Juan Antonio Bayona
Rating : ****
Here’s a nerve-jangling Spanish chiller. Unlike recent run-of-the-mill Hollywood frighteners, debutant director Bayona’s The Orphanage achieves a constant sense of dread without any gore spilling or schlocky effects.
Instead, he spooks us to the edge of the seat through supernatural suggestion, sinister atmospherics and visual élan.
The story spirals around a 30-something woman (Rueda) who returns to the seaside orphanage where she lived as a child. Settled in with her husband and their spirited seven-year-old adopted son (Princep), she plans to re-open the place as a home for disabled kids.
However, there’s a startling twist in the plot. Suddenly her son vanishes without a trace. The grief-stricken mother’s attempt to find the child culminates in a heart-wrenching climax.
With shades of such impressive 1960’s ghost stories as The Innocents and The Haunting, besides JM Barrie’s children’s classic Peter Pan, the deliberately paced mise-en-scene frequently blacks out the screen to striking effect. Moreover, fluid camerawork, knife-sharp editing and the appropriately eerie sound design contribute to the thriller’s walloping impact.
Director Bayona extracts an excellent performance from Belen Rueda (trackers of European cinema may remember her from Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside). Geraldine Chaplin, as a psychic summoned to uncover the secrets of the former orphanage, is persuasive.
Reportedly, an American remake is already in the works. Here’s hoping that Hollywood doesn’t massacre the original’s spirit.