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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blind Picks from Netflix: El Orfanato (2007)

It’s been a while since a film made me check all my closets before going to bed. It’s also been a while since a film made me out-and-out bawl like a little kid. Antonio Bayona’s supernatural thriller El Orfanato managed to achieve both in one fell swoop.

The plot is fairly simple: Laura (Belén Rueda), and her successful doctor husband (Fernando Cayo) buy the orphanage that used to serve as her childhood home. Laura has fond memories of the place and she intends to turn it into a home for disabled children. Her own child, Simon (Roger Príncep, otherwise known as the Cutest Child Ever), was born HIV+ and needs extensive care of his own. At the home, Simon finds friendship with an imaginary boy. This friendship begins to frighten Laura when she begins to wonder if the figment is all in Simon’s head—or the ghost of one of her former playmates.

The plot may sound pretty pedestrian so far; I was unimpressed with the set up of the film, thinking to myself “this is going to be like every other haunted-house-with-cute-kid-who-sees-dead-people movie.” Then Simon disappears, a mysterious nurse with Mr. Magoo glasses shows up and the plot gets much more interesting.

The film is well acted and strongly directed. Rueda is a beautiful and phenomenal actress who has done a lot of work on Spanish television but who is only starting to build a fan base in the United States. Nine-year-old Roger Príncep, with his transfixing gaze and expressive face, is clearly built for a lifetime on the big screen. Bayona’s direction skillfully uses all of the great spooky movie elements: long menacing stairways, hallways, jarring close-ups, warped camera angles and several shocking moments that will scare you out of your seat. While it has been said that El Orfanato is similar in tone to Alejandro Amenábar’s frightening 2001 filmLos Otros, but I found El Orfanato to be both less surreal and more human. I could relate to Laura, so much so that by the twist in the end of the film I was a complete mess. And unlike Los Otros, I did not see the end of El Orfanato coming. For those who want a creepy, atmospheric horror drama to rent, check out El Orfanato. Just don’t rent it on Mother’s Day like I did—you’ll end up surrounded by wadded up Kleenex.

Watch the trailer:


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