The orphanage is the directorial debut of Juan Antonio Bayona. Released in 2007, the protagonist is the impressive Belén Rueda (three years before she did well in The sea inside by Alejandro Amenábar) and all the supporting actors also do a good job (Fernando Cayo and Geraldine Chaplin above all). I recently watched the movie and it’s amazing! It immediately enters the list of the great debuts of the history of cinema, together with the recent Get out (2017), Lucky (2017) and The Babadook (2014), among others.
It’s hard to talk about this film without spoilers… But before doing so, let me say that Belén Rueda is great in this movie, the script is well-written and all its elements fit perfectly into a truly compelling story, and Bayona proves his skills behind the camera despite this being his first movie (and of course he did, he just managed to be the director of a huge blockbuster such as Jurassic world: Fallen kingdom!). If you haven’t seen this film, please do so as soon as possible. If you’ve seen it already, then you may continue reading my review full of spoilers!
This movie’s idea is similar to that behind Pan’s labyrinth, the 2006 masterpiece by Guillermo del Toro. Like in that movie, there are two parallel stories developing on screen. The first is the real one, in this case the disappearance of the young son adopted by the couple Rueda–Cayo (the competent Roger Príncep). The second story is the reality seen from the distorted perspective of the mother who lets herself be influenced by the events of her past life and by her child’s imagination. The wonderful thing about this is that there are never any conflicts between these two representations of the story. We even start believing that what we see through the eyes of the character of Belén Rueda is truly happening! I found myself wondering if the ghosts of those poor orphans, seen in the initial flashback set 30 years before the main story, were real or not.
And then it’s beautiful how the film frightens us and creates tension without easy jump scares, without frantic montages of ghosts appearing and disappearing, without the fast motion sequences that seem obligatory in every recent (and terrible) horror movie (one example is It: Chapter One by Andy Muschietti)… Bayona moves his camera slowly, often using a dolly, he creates tension thanks to the mystery, and when he uses a hand-held camera he does it for plot-related reasons, not to make it easier to scare the audience. For example, in the fantastic scene in which the adult Rueda plays Statues all by herself we know very well that the ghosts of the children will appear to play with her. And Bayona knows that we know, so he avoids the simple jump scare accompanied by a loud noise and shows us the scene in the most natural way possible, but at the same time loaded with a nervousness demonstrated by the movement of the cameraman who moves the camera from the wall to the room worrying about seeing what we would never want to see. Simply fantastic.
To conclude, I fell in love with this movie and I cannot wait to see it again. It’s not a perfect movie, even if it’s almost perfect. For example, perhaps I would have prefer it to end with the scene of the children surrounding Belén Rueda telling them a story. However, this would have implied not seeing the splendid final scene with the wind opening the doors of the salon and the husband smiling at it after finding the medal he had lent to his wife. Cool. And then I would have preferred some things to be a bit more subtle. For example, the ending is a clear reference to Peter Pan with Rueda (Wendy) who grew up while the other children (Peter Pan) didn’t, and I didn’t need one of the children to say it aloud (Peter Pan had already been mentioned in the first half of the film!). But these are small details. The orphanage is a great movie and it undoubtedly deserves being seen! Ciao!