The tensest 105 minutes you will experience this year

Available on BLU-RAY DVD from July 21st 2008 priced at £16.98 This is my favourite film of the year so far and upon second viewing just a few days before the release of The Dark Knight in U.K. cinema's, all I can say is that Christopher Nolan has his work cut out if his film is going to be my top movie by Christmas. This is altogether the creepiest, the scariest, the most thought provoking and excitable film I've seen in the horror genre in years. This is every bit as good as the classic "mystery" horror movies of the 70's, The Omen, The Exorcist and Don't Look Now - but with an unmistakable European flavour of Mexican director Alejandro Amenabar's The Others of 2001. And when I saw it in theatres it made me jump and scream like a bitch. Two female youngsters next to me, who couldn't be much older than 17, I thought had been wired up like an old William Castle film to an electric shock machine, because they just couldn't sit still in their seats for more than two minutes. This is the way horror movies should be... people actually screaming out loud to what they are seeing on screen and literally not being able to open their eyes and take it anymore.


To the film's credit, it's not the shocks or the jolts that make you scream. It's the fucking tension. You literally can't take it anymore. It builds, it builds, - it's unrelentless and rarely do you get a relief moment or a jumping fright. You do get a few but often it comes as a relief because you literally believe you are going to combust from the tension if something doesn't happen. It's excruciating and I loved it. This is how I want horror movies to make me feel, I want to squirm, be terrified, I want to invest myself as much into the film as possible and make believe that if the character dies then I am screwed too. The Orphanage does that and so much more From producer Guillermo del Toro (though clearly Warner Bros. wanted you to think it was directed by him) and shot by unknown helmer Juan Antonio Bayona very much in a similar style del Toro used for the equally emotional ghost story The Devil's Backbone, this Spanish language movie follows Laura (Belen Rueda), a 30 something mature wife to Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and mother of one, who returns to the Orphanage she herself attended as a child with the view of turning it into a hospice for young children. She has fond memories of the place but once she gets there, deja vu hits her like a smack in the head and she begins to remember terrible things about the creepy building, especially when she see's her son draw his latest imaginary friend, a child in a creepy sack mask. Things soon get worse when an encounter with the creepiest social worker in movie history (played by Montserrat Carulla), leads Simon to find out that he is actually adopted and he confronts his mother before running away, gone without a trace. Six months pass and the police can't offer any explanation, and Simon's previous talk of invisible friends now seems like something far more sinister than just his imagination. Was he kidnapped? Laura begins to believe there is a link between the increasingly uncomfortable feeling she gets from the Orphanage and the disappearance of her son, she brings in a medium to try and unlock the mysterious of the house. In the most tense scene I've witnessed on film since del Toro's own pale man sequence in Pan's Labyrinth, Laura dresses up in Orphanage uniform, alone in a dark room where she attempts to communicate with the ghosts that haunt the place. Bayona films the scene with various long takes, and cross cuts - mostly from the p.o.v. of the medium watching on camera which make it feel real and utterly fascinating. It's an unforgettable sequence, one that will before long end up on our "Greatest Scenes" feature I'm sure.


What Bayona manages so well is to make the house of the film a character in of itself. The Others did this wonderfully and maybe it's a Spanish thing but to keep the interest in a house whose walls and corridors you begin to remember and become accustomed to is a very neat trick, especially in a building as large as this. The pay-off's come when Laura begins to search other areas of the house and you find yourself also unerved because your not quite sure of where it's headed or what is around the corner. This is a wonderful film that I honestly couldn't recommend enough. It's so much more than just an average ghost story and as well as having some of the tensest set pieces in any horror film of this decade it also has a real tragic story to tell. It's a very bleak take on J.M. Barrie's classic tale of Peter Pan and a mystery that touches on themes of grief and how one's memory of tragedy is sometimes too much for us to overcome. Juan Antonio Bayona deserves magnificent credit for this movie and I hope we get to see a lot more of his work in the future and he resists the big money urge to redo the film for New Line Cinema who now obtain the English language remake rights.

rating: 4.5

EXTRA'S A great 40 minute Q & A from Bayona and his sound designer Oriol Tarrago (who did a good job on this movie too) which is hosted by Brit critic Mark Kermode. A couple of nice featurettes and a pretty short and commercial style "Making Of". Not a bad set of extra's, though without an audio commentary it's never going to get full marks from me.

rating: 3

OVERALL A good old fashioned horror tale that invokes a mixture of Don't Look Now, The Others and producer Guillermo del Toro's own The Devil's Backbone. Shot with the same emotional drive as the great Pan's Labyrinth, this Spanish chiller is a creepy, terrifying and tragic look at emotional grief and is the tensest 105 minutes you will experience this year.
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Matt Holmes is the co-founder of What Culture, formerly known as Obsessed With Film. He has been blogging about pop culture and entertainment since 2006 and has written over 10,000 articles.