"The Orphanage" is one of the most highly regarded motion pictures from 2007. It is a successful film governed by the Aristotelian rules of a successful narrative with character development. Marketed as a ghost story, "The Orphanage" is an entertaining experience that sensitively navigates though the mind fields of horror, humor and hope.
The prologue is set at an orphanage in Spain, circa 1975, the last year in the reign of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. While playing hide and seek with her friends, Laura is selected by new new adoptive family. As an adult, Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to the home of her youth, with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), a medical doctor, and Simon (Roger Princep), an orphan who is HIV positive. Laura and Carols plan to reopen the orphanage as a center for sick and disabled children.
As Laura and Carlos prepare plan for the grand opening of the center, Simon's behavior becomes more erratic. During the tension of the grand opening, Simon gets into an explosive argument with Laura and then disappears.
The mystery of Simon's disappearance becomes a national news event, complete with sinister suspects and red herrings. The stuffy Beniga (Montserrat Carulla) roams the outskirts of the seas side mansion. Laura recalls Simon's conversation about his invisible playmates; Watson, Pepe and Tomas. Eventually a paranormal specialist, Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin), is called to investigate this mystery.
The strength of "The Orphanage" lies in the merging between the normal and the paranormal worlds of Laura. Belen Rueda is the audience conduit that filters the fine line between fantasy and reality. Walking a psychological tightrope, Rueda creates a truthful performance. As Aurora, Charlie Chaplin's first born daughter creates an interesting character that should be investigated beyond this elongated cameo.
"The Orphanage" works as a contemporary suspense tragedy. It is not the fantastical scares that make one jump, but the everyday phobias that lurk nearby; children with birth defects, poison wallpaper or the separation of love.
Clocking in at 100 minutes, "The Orphanage" feels epic in structure and storytelling. Yet "The Orphanage" is a film that celebrates and rewards the viewer with it's attention to detail. See how screenwriter Sergio Sanchez and Director Juan Antonio Boyona make thematic use of the Saint Anthony Medal, the patron saint of the lost to the Roman Catholic religion. "The Orphanage" is an excellent motion picture to challenge one's perception of faith.