Saturday, October 15, 2016
Directed by J.A. Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sanchez, El orfanato (The Orphanage) is the story of a woman who returns to the orphanage where she was raised in the hopes to turn it into for disable children only for the place to become haunted once her adopted son disappears. The film is a ghost story that explores the place where a woman returns to her home as she copes with the dark secrets at the orphanage. Starring Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Andres Gertrudix, Edgar Vivar, and Geraldine Chaplin. El orfanato is a riveting and mesmerizing film from J.A. Bayona.
The film is about a woman who returns to the orphanage where she was raised as a child in the hopes to turn it into a home for disabled children where her adopted son communicates with imaginary friends and then suddenly disappear. It’s a film that is really about a woman returning to a place where she grew up as she learns about the dark secrets of the orphanage and its nearby surroundings including a cave and the beach. Notably as a ghost would haunt the place and cause trouble as her son would disappear leading to a long search as this woman named Laura (Belen Rueda) copes with her son’s disappearance as well as the secrets of the orphanage. The film’s screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez has this unique structure that play into Laura and her search for her son but also in seeing if there are ghosts. The first act is about Laura, her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their adopted son Simon (Roger Princep) living in the orphanage as well as Simon’s sudden disappearance.
The second act is about Laura and Carlos finding their son as they seek the help of a police psychologist in Pilar (Mabel Rivera) as they explore the orphanage and its surroundings. Especially as Laura copes with the things her son claims to have seen including a mysterious boy in a mask known as Tomas (Oscar Casas) and an old woman she had met early in the film claiming to be a social worker. The social worker is a mystery herself as Laura realizes that some of the things she found out about the orphanages forces her to go ghosts experts including a medium named Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) who would be the key to finding out some truth into what Laura wants to find. The third act is about Laura trying to communicate with the ghosts as well as try to see if Simon is still alive.
J.A. Bayona’s direction is definitely entrancing for the way he creates suspense in some of the most unexpected moments but also build it up without taking away the dramatic elements. Shot on location in Llanes, Asturias in Spain, the film definitely favors a more rural setting with a location near the beach as well as caves for a scene where Simon goes inside and claims to meet Tomas there. Bayona would create a lot of intimacy in his compositions to help maintain that suspense as well as play with its rhythms for false scares while creating moments that are unexpected. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots help maintain that intimacy along with some wide shots that is key to the sequence of Aurora trying to contact the ghosts. The third act does have a twist in its climax as it reveal things that happened on the day of Simon’s disappearance but it is more about grief and loss over the things Laura encountered at the orphanage as well as it’s history where she tries to make things right. Overall, Bayona creates an eerie yet enchanting film about a woman trying to find her son in the orphanage where she once lived at as a child.
Cinematographer Oscar Faura does excellent work with the film‘s somewhat de-saturated look of tinted blue and green colors to help play into the mood for many of the interiors as well as in the lighting to create that feel of suspense and horror. Editor Elena Ruiz does brilliant work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts help play into the suspense and dramatic elements of the film. Production designer Josep Rosell and set decorator/art director Inigo Navarro do fantastic work with the look of the orphanage as well as some of the rooms including the one that Carlos made to find where Simon could be in the area. Costume designer Maria Reyes does nice work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual with the exception of the look of the women who ran the orphanage in the past as well as the clothes that Laura‘s old childhood friends wore at the orphanage.
Special effects makeup work by David Marti and Montse Ribe do amazing work with the look of Tomas when he‘s not wearing the mask as well in some of the moments of death. Visual effects supervisor Jordi San Agustin does terrific work with some of the minimal visual effects that play into some of the horror that includes the scenes involving ghosts and super 8mm films that Laura would watch. Sound designer Oriol Tarrago does superb work with the sound as the mixing and design help play into the suspense into what Laura is hearing as well as Aurora during the sequence where she tries to communicate with the ghosts. The film’s music by Fernando Velasquez does incredible work with the film’s orchestral-based score as it help play into the drama as well as the suspense where it would appear in moments that are unexpected.
The casting by Geli Albaladejo is marvelous as it include some notable small roles from Edgar Vivar as a professor who studies the supernatural, Andres Gertrudix as the professor’s sound technician, Carol Suarez as the younger version of the mysterious social worker, Mireia Renau as the young Laura, and Oscar Casas in a terrific performance as the mysterious child known as Tomas. Montserrat Carulla is wonderful as the mysterious social worker who knows something about Simon as she has something to do with the orphanage. Mabel Rivera is fantastic as Pilar as a police psychiatrist who helps Laura and Carlos find Simon while wondering if there are really ghosts at the orphanage. Roger Princep is excellent as Simon as young boy who has imaginary friends as he learns some harsh truths about himself and then suddenly disappears.
Geraldine Chaplin is amazing as Aurora as a medium who can communicate to ghosts as she is able to understand what Laura is going through as well as try to help her in finding Simon. Fernando Cayo is brilliant as Carlos as Laura’s husband who is also a doctor as he is eager to find his son but also becomes suspicious of the people who think that ghosts are involved. Finally, there’s Belen Rueda in a phenomenal performance as Laura as a woman who returns to the orphanage that she was raised in the hopes to do some good with it as she is ravaged by her son’s disappearance as Rueda brings an anguish and drive to her performance which is a major highlight of the film.
El orfanato is a spectacular film from J.A. Bayona that features an incredible performance from Belen Rueda. Along with a great supporting cast, an inventive screenplay, and some eerie technical work, it’s a film that is fascinating ghost story that has some chills and moments that stray away from conventional horror tropes. In the end, El orfanato is a sensational film from J.A. Bayona.
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