THE ORPHANAGE

Finally, the most original (well it's not a remake anyway!) and scary looking horror movie in years makes it's way to the U.K. in a few weeks. With Guillermo del Toro's name as a producer and the HUGE hype, is it the chiller we have been craving for?

Juan Antonio Bayona Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez Starring: Belen Rueda, Geraldine Chaplin, Fernando Cayo, Mabel Rivera, Roger Princep, Montserrat Carulla Distributed by: Warner Bros, Picturehouse Film will be released in the U.K. on March 28th 2008 Review by Michael Edwards

rating: 3

The Orphanage is another Spanish horror heavily publicised through the attachment of the illustrious name of Guillermo del Toro (a producer here). This particular chiller is, surprisingly, set in an old orphanage where a young family of comprising the father, mother and young son move in and soon find themselves caught up in strange and unnerving events which begin with the two eerie occurrences - the visit of a strange old lady claiming to be a social worker and the appearance of a number of strange imaginary friends who have revealed themselves to young Simón. From it's opening credits, which are weirdly reminiscent of Tim Burton, The Orphanage compels with its spooky atmosphere and compelling plot layers. Probably the most immediately noticeable strong point of the film is its strong sense of place. There has been an increasing trend in horror and chiller movies (not just confined to the reviewers' whipping boy - 'Hollywood') to artificially manufacture confined locations or closed-in spaces in which the terror can unfold, but this is a film in which the location, and the multifarious and intriguing connections of the characters to it, prove an effective plot driver. In fact, you'd probably have to go as far back as The Amityville Horror (the original, obviously) or Poltergeist to find a comparably tense atmosphere in which it isn't just the source of the mayhem that you fear - that usual sense of 'oh no, what's around that corner?!' - it's also the fabric of the location itself. As the story unfolds there is more to the movie than just the standard shock scenes, unidentifiable noises and ghostly apparitions. The real hook of this film lies in the linkages between the strange goings on and the lives of the characters themselves. There are plenty of family secrets unearthed in pursuing the mysterious events at the orphanage, some a bit predictable, others out of the blue, and some just downright crazy, but cumulatively they make this more than a spine-tingler, they make it a layered piece of intrigue that really draws the viewer into the world on screen. In terms of gore, there's little to speak of. The mother's hand gets slammed in a door and her nail is pulled off... but that's not likely to terrifying most hard-nosed horror fans. Of more note is somebody (who I won't reveal so as not to spoil it) getting run over by a massive van, resulting in a cataclysmic caving-in of the facial region. That's more like it! The little ghouls inhabiting the screen are definitely creepy, and one in particular had chills running down my spine (although this could be attributed to the usual manipulative high-pitched strings cropping up), but they aren't horrific. All-in-all this is definitely one for the chiller fans out there who like a bit of mystery with their fright-fests. Director Juan Antonio Bayona is strong in all the areas that matter for an atmospheric outing like this one, adopting a few of the standard tricks of the trade in touting his scary wares, but he is at his best when playing on the twists and turns that link the world of the living with the world of the spirits. The causality behind the story is tight and adds a layer of plausibility that is rarely found in horror/chiller movies, with those exceptions frequently found in Asia that draw heavily on folklore and mythology, and this makes the film feel like a complete work rather than an archetypal genre piece churned out for a few cheap thrills. Perhaps not the most original movie but nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema. THE ORPHANAGE is in cinemas around the UK from 21st of March. Visit the official website here: http://www.theorphanagemovie.co.uk/

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Michael J Edwards hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.