Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

Do You See What I See?

I thought that the Orphanage had employed just about every cliched premise out there in horrorland, where the first 5 minutes probably set up an inevitable series of events that you could have seen from 10 miles out. A creepy looking mansion which functions as an orphanage, children (who are popular characters in many horror movies), and the return to a place called home. To make things worse, the story took its time to unfold, with what I perceived as a nod toward Poltergeist and Dark Water combined.

However, you can't deny that The Orphanage was somewhat of a fresh breeze amongst recent horror releases. Sure I did not like the snail's pace, but I appreciate the technical details employed to craft mood and tension, without relying on the usual bag of tricks. So what you have are extremely atmospheric pieces, but don't go waiting out for cheap sound effects or sudden quick jumps to send thrills down your spine, or laughable attempts at that.

Belen Rueda plays Laura, an orphan from the Orphanage who returns to the same house many years later with husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and son Simon (Roger Princep) in tow. Standard horror movie rule #1 will say that things are expected to go bump in the night, and soon enough Simon starts to interact with what is brushed aside by his parents as imaginary friends borne out of his loneliness. Laura, during her childhood, got adopted and off she goes from her friends, and rule #2 will state that she'll soon find out what had happened to the rest, weaved together quite nicely when Simon starts to disappear.

I've come to casually notice that with horror movies, female protagonist are now standard fare. They will find inner strength to confront demons, believe the extraordinary and just never give up hope, whereas their male counterparts always seem whiny, disbelieving, and unsupportive. And that continues here as well. There are some nice touches here which I felt held up the plot development when it was going downhill, and that scene involving "ghostbusters" was certainly one of the best I've seen in a long while, where everything worked perfectly in providing crucial clues to further the story.

But don't go to The Orphanage expecting a lot. The story's rather cliche though cleverly multi-layered in its presentation. It has its moments in key scenes, and for a horror movie, it possesses technical merits in not wanting to be just another run off the mill production, but ultimately felt quite empty despite its very glossy veneer and its headline of having Guillermo del Toro's name attached to the project.

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