What scares you? This is the question many filmmakers ask themselves before trying to craft a good horror movie. The problem is what scares you may not scare me. I have never been afraid of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky, or Jigsaw. Those are all characters in films I find entertaining, gory and at times comical, but never scary. The Orphanage scares me.
The Orphanage begins with Laura, her husband Carlos, and their son Simón, moving into the dilapidated orphanage where Laura grew up. Laura plans to reopen the orphanage as a facility for disabled children. Shortly after arriving, Simón begins seeing someone named Tomás, a frightening little boy who wears a scarecrow kind of mask. At a grand opening party, Simón goes missing, thus setting up the beginning of an increasingly more disturbing story starring creepy old ladies, weird little children, a mother desperate to find her son, and an ending that will stick with you whether you like it or not.
This film is not loud, it is not fast, and it is not in English. While American horror seems to go bigger and bloodier every year, this Spanish film takes it back to the basics. The Orphanage marries the fears we had as children (dark hallways, weird noises in the night, sinister old people), with the things that scare us as adults (children in danger, abandoned playgrounds, sinister old people). It is the way the director, Juan Antonio Bayona, masterfully balances the two styles that set it apart from other horror films.
In the end I have nothing but the highest praise for this film. I know I have suggested it to a number of friends, but the recommendations often fall on reluctant ears. It is hard enough sometimes to get people to watch a serious horror film, but add subtitles to the mix, and it can at times be downright impossible. The shame is this little film makes me do something that few horror films, American or not, can accomplish. When the credits roll I don’t feel comfortable until the lights are back on. And that is some of the highest praise a horror film can achieve.
Written by Drew Martin