‘The Orphanage’: Adopt this movie

Fri, 01/18/2008 - 9:34am
By: Michael Boylan

I could not believe my luck that a well-known, critically acclaimed foreign film was actually playing on the south side of Atlanta. I don’t think this has happened since last year’s juggernaut, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” captured audience’s imaginations. Interestingly enough Guillermo del Toro (director of “Pan’s Labyrinth”) was involved with “The Orphanage” as well (he served as executive producer).

“The Orphanage” is a ghost story/thriller set in an (you guessed it) orphanage. Laura, a former orphan, returns as an adult with her husband and adopted son with the hopes of making it a home for a small group of medically fragile or special needs children. Laura’s son, Simón, is a bit medically fragile himself and he has several imaginary friends that help him battle the loneliness in his new home. Once the family moves in, Simón has even more imaginary friends and they all want to play with him.

(Cue the spooky piano music)

The film kicks into high gear when Simón goes missing and Laura tries to solve the mystery of her son’s disappearance and the increasing likelihood of the house being haunted. There are some very suspenseful scenes including one with a medium and her team that is my favorite sequence of the film. The acting is quite good, especially Belén Rueda as Laura. This is a film with subtitles, but I found myself enraptured with the way director Juan Antonio Bayona shot the magnificently spooky house and the faces of Simón’s grieving parents. I was never distracted by having to read the dialogue and it didn’t steal one iota of the suspense from this gripping film.

I applaud the Cinemark theater in Newnan for getting “The Orphanage” and I think that people who like a good ghost story should check this out. It isn’t gory but it is intensely creepy in places and very different from a lot of the formulaic and half-baked horror movies U.S. studios tend to trot out at the beginning of the year.

Now that the J-Horror (Japanese Horror) kick appears officially dead (Thank you “One Missed Call”) American audiences hungry for something new in thrillers should certainly turn their attention to Spanish films. Del Toro has proven himself to be something akin to Mexico’s Peter Jackson with his horror-fantasy films, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” and his “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” are both excellent and creepy in their own ways and there is talk of a crazy horror film called “[Rec]” that has already swept through Spain and won a number of awards. I hope it gets released here before it gets remade into English.

The point I’m trying to make is when things at the U.S. box office get you down, there are tons of great foreign films to scope out - and I don’t mean just horror. If you like action, “Run Lola Run” is a really fun movie, while comedy fans would probably love “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” which features a very young Antonio Banderas. There are also tons of great dramas such as France’s “Red,” “White,” and “Blue” and last year’s Oscar winner from Germany, “The Lives of Others.” Don’t get me wrong, America makes great movies. They have the money and the talent and I speak the language fluently, but we can’t corner the market on creativity and imagination. There is talent all over the world and fans of cinema should open their minds and check it out.


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