The Orphanage

After the surprise success of Pan’s Labyrinth last year, Picturehouse took a chance by floating this creepy Spanish ghost story to mainstream U.S. audiences. It’s worth a

look. The first section is paced so slowly that it’s almost

sleep-inducing, with a cute kid mugging for the camera in every other

scene. After the young boy abruptly disappears–kidnapped, perhaps, by

the invisible friends he has found in the former orphanage owned by his

adoptive parents?–the film slowly comes to life. Director Juan Antonio

Bayona takes a mostly restrained approach, opting to create atmosphere

instead of manufacturing thrills. He does stage a single scene of

grisly violence at about the halfway mark that’s startling enough to

keep audiences on edge for the duration, as mother Laura (Belén Rueda

in a tense, wiry performance), becomes more and more consumed with the

search for her vanished son. Haunted-house tropes and other genre

clichés abound, but The Orphanage is actually refreshing, in part

because it avoids the kind of self-conscious twist endings popularized

by recent horror movies. In some ways it’s a very old-fashioned piece

of entertainment–it’s not particularly gory, but it’s spooky, scary and

satisfying. B A version of this review was originally published in the White Plains Times.

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