Quick Hit: A tightly crafted horror film.
There’s an anatomy to horror films that I think most casual viewers don’t understand. There is a lot of work that goes into making someone scared. If you only show reactions, you miss out on scares. If you only show wide shots, it’s tough to sneak things in. But when you are willing to vary your shots (wide, medium, close-up), what can be crafted is a tightly anticipated reveal of a monster/demon/ghost/bunch of STUFF. Director J.A. Boyna took this concept and ran with it and crafted an extremely taut horror film in, well, an orphanage.
Laura (Belen Rueda) moves into the place she grew up with the plans to make it a home for children with handicaps. When her adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep) begins to see a young boy that she remembers from her own childhood, it turns into a devastating spiral.
I think what I enjoyed most about this horror film was just how ambiguous everything was. It’s really difficult to tell what’s real, who is real, and what is going on. In this way, it reminds me a bit of the The Others from 2001. I thought the script did a good job of allowing the audience members to draw their own conclusions. Is Laura insane? Is Simon even real? Or are the children real and Laura is a figment of their imagination? Or you can be extremely literal and only all the children besides Simon are ghosts. The fact that this is left open allows different interpretations, and most of them are satisfying.
There are also a number of creepy atmospheric shots – some in caves, but a lot that involve the house as well. This includes a basement shot, with what looks like a boiler/wall – hard to tell – but was one of the creepier shots in the film. Seeing Laura climb into the hole, you just expect a lot to go wrong. That’s what many of the moments in the movie hinge on – the tension of what is expected to happen when Laura finds herself in certain situations. There could have been a lot of “jump scares” in these moments, but instead, Boyna allows the tension to build. It’s excruciating in its execution, and I thought it was very well handled.
For her part, Rueda does a terrific job acting the part. This role is extremely complex for a horror film, and because the movie focuses so much on her, her performance hinged the movie. She does a great job at not only selling the reaction shots, but also (going back to a previous point) giving us the ambiguity within the different scenes to let us draw our own conclusions. Bravo, Ms. Rueda.
I’m going to give The Orphanage a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"