Thar be mild spoilers ahead.

STUDIO:  New Line Home Video
MSRP: $14.98
RUNNING TIME: 105 Minutes
-    “When Laura Grew Up: Constructing the Orphanage”
-    “Tomas’ Secret Room (The Filmmakers)”
-    “Horror in the Unknown: Makeup Effects”
-    Still Galleries
-    Rehearsal Studio
-    Marketing Campaign

The Pitch

It’s like if the Guillermo Del Toro who directed Blade 2 directed The Devil’s Backbone. If that makes sense.

Spoilers: The Orphanage is her vagina.

The Humans

Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Andres Gertrudix, Edgar Vivar and Geraldine Chaplin

What would the Little Tramp say?

The Nutshell

Returning to the orphanage from which she was raised as a young girl, Laura looks to set up a child care facility of her own taking care of handicapped children. However, upon arriving, her son Simon quickly makes friends with five imaginary characters whom occupy his attention and much of his time. During the reopening party for the orphanage, Simon disappears after his mother rebukes his offer to visit the home of one of the five friends (this disappearance coincides with the appearance of a mysterious masked boy). Her frantic search for her son grows more desperate with each passing day and she will stop at nothing (including a team of parapsychologists) to try and get back the son she loves so fervently.

Luckily for the director, she was able to dig down deep inside and deliver a performance that couldn’t be described as anything less than jaw-dropping.

The Lowdown

The pedigree of The Orphanage (Guillermo Del Toro’s producing credit is front and center in both the opening credits as well as the film’s advertising) would lead one to believe it was another product of the same ilk as his Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone and to a certain extent you’d be right. This is gothic horror built on the slow build principle with a keen eye towards establishing a location and then placing you firmly in it. However, there’s a strong Hollywood sheen to the entire enterprise, from its not-what-you’d-expect score down to its meticulous plotting reminiscent of the best of Zemeckis. The screenplay is laudable for its ability to use callbacks without straining credibility (the opening scene is brought back to our attention just as the tension is reaching its highest peak, and the sequence can truly be described as masterful) and for establishing the location with precision, although that also can be contributed to the direction. And that’s one of the high water marks of this film, its ability to root you in this place and make it come to life.  The sense of space and ability to turn the orphanage itself into another character in the movie is one of the most effective tools used in bringing the viewer deeply into the story being told.

Timmy’s ‘Li’l Strangers‘ costume was a big hit on Halloween.  Especially when he reminded people he was ‘based on real li’l events’.

It also helps the performances are solid across the board.  Belen Rueda is given the heaviest lifting of all of the performers as Laura and she delivers the goods throughout. The emotional core of the movie rests on her shoulders and without her deteriorating health and psyche at the forefront of the second and third act, I wouldn’t feel the tension of her plight quite nearly as profoundly as I did. Roger Princep also deserves special recognition for his work as the young boy Simon, for giving a completely unaffected and believable performance. The precociousness and child acting that could sink a part as integral to the plot as this are all shed here, and it’s a tribute to him as well as the filmmakers that they were able to get something so grounded in reality out of the young boy when dealing with subject matter that is so supernatural. Also, kudos for casting Geraldine Chaplin at the medium brought along with the parapsychologists to try and lock down where exactly the spirits are roaming inside the orphanage. It could easily have been a bit of admirable stunt casting, but she lends a gravitas and history to the character that comes through in her performance without much in the way of exposition to explain it away.

“On some nights you can still hear the wild screams of an emaciated Larry “Bud” Melman ring through the countryside…”

There’s so much this film does well that it’s not so hard to forgive it its first-time filmmaking mistakes. Perhaps the biggest one is that the movie lets go of the throttle in its third act and it shifts gears from being a genuinely unsettling ghost story to something more of a psychological melodrama. So while the film loses its tension for the most part in the last moments, it instead shifts your perspective and turns the movie into an examination of the depths of a mother’s grief. Another slight problem is the score, which felt a little too tonally at odds with the material at times. But despite these small hiccups along the way it’s hard not to be excited about a fresh new vision such as this being put out there for the public to disseminate. Small qualms aside, it’s a very polished inaugural effort for J.A. Bayona and one can’t help but be excited to see where he goes from here (hopefully not to the Twilight series, but he can only help to polish that shit sandwich into something more palatable, like a shit panini). High recommendation.

“Will someone please pass the fucking sugar?”

The Package

The cover art is a little boring and generic, although it highlights Lil’ Burlap so I guess they will seize on whatever they think American audiences will take from the film the most. This disc is pretty packed with extras and they’re all pretty substantial, so this is different from your usual EPK fluff pieces and hastily cobbled together featurettes. All of the different featurettes combine to give you a real sense of the work behind the movie that made it all come together. From the actors to the directors to the makeup to the sound effects to the location shooting to the special effects, there is a broad spectrum covered by the bonus features here. It’s a model I hope more movies strive to emulate in an effort to give more bang for your buck. All in all, a really solid disc worth checking out and picking up.

8.3 out of 10