Or­phans of the storm

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

THE OR­PHAN­AGE/ EL ORFANATO Di­rected by Juan An­to­nio Bay­ona. Star­ring Belén Rueda, Fer­nando Cayo, Roger Prín­cep, Geral­dine Chap­lin, Montser­rat Carulla 15A cert, lim re­lease, 105 min IT IS a mea­sure of the bril­liance of this sin­gu­lar Span­ish hor­ror film – a jaw-drop­ping fea­ture de­but from Juan An­to­nio Bay­ona – that it calls to mind a dozen clas­sics of the macabre while still re­main­ing very much its own sin­is­ter beast.

On pa­per the pic­ture reads a lit­tle like an amal­gam of Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing and Jack Clay­ton’s The In­no­cents. Laura (Belén Rueda), a drawn, in­tense wo­man in early mid­dle-age, de­cides to re­turn to the re­mote or­phan­age in which she grew up and run it as a home for men­tally dis­abled chil­dren. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing her are an agree­able hus­band (Fer­nando Cayo) and an adopted son (Roger Prín­cep), who has yet to learn that he is HIV-pos­i­tive.

Un­usual events soon over­power them. A strange old lady with bot­tle-glass spec­ta­cles turns up to ask sur­pris­ing ques­tions. The boy, who has al­ways had an ac­tive imag­i­na­tion, claims that he has en­coun­tered lonely chil­dren in a cave on the neigh­bour­ing shore­line. About a third of the way through, some­thing par­tic­u­larly aw­ful hap­pens and the pic­ture sud­denly veers to­wards ter­ri­tory pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by Don’t Look Now.

It would be un­fair to go into the tan­gled plot in any greater de­tail. It would also take up more space than we are al­lowed. The Or­phan­age, which car­ries the im­pri­matur of Guillermo del Toro, di­rec­tor of Pan’s Labyrinth, must be the busiest ghost pic­ture in the his­tory of the genre. Fea­tur­ing half-a-dozen sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ters and four or five in­ter­weav­ing sto­ries, the film, at times, looks in dan­ger of tak­ing on the qual­ity of an an­thol­ogy. Yet Bay­ona some­how brings it to­gether in an ad­mirably neat de­noue­ment.

As ever in such films, the char­ac­ters take ir­ra­tional de­ci­sions and their af­fairs are pep­pered with a few too many co­in­ci­dences. But it’s un­set­tling to note that the cir­cum­stance I found most im­plau­si­ble on first view­ing has since been ren­dered all too be­liev­able by ap­palling events in Jer­sey.

Oddly, de­spite the hor­rors ref­er­enced above, The Or­phan­age is ul­ti­mately a hope­ful piece with a naive be­lief in the eter­nal power of love. Filmed in drift­ing takes by Os­car Faura, the pic­ture ends with a fi­nal scene (let’s ig­nore the faintly id­i­otic ex­plana­tory epi­logue) that has more to do with Peter Pan than Poltergeist.

This is not to sug­gest you should en­cour­age in­fants to at­tend.

Com­ing home: Belén Rueda out­side the or­phan­age

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