A review of “The Orphanage” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for violence, some bloodshed and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles

 

 

Saturated in anxiety and dripping with dread, this contemporary chiller is the real deal.

In a neat twist of turnaround adult orphan Laura (Belén Rueda) has purchased the cavernous mansion where she spent her childhood, planning on turning it into a home for disabled youngsters.

It doesn’t take long before her precocious son Simón (Roger Príncep) is chattering on about an imaginary playmate named Tomás and his clever games, some of which strike Laura as dangerously insidious.

Eerie moments mount up – a visit from a deranged social worker who knows too much for her own good, a treasure hunt gone sorely awry and, after an angry exchange in which Simón discovers he is an adopted child with a terminal illness, his complete disappearance.

Laura will not accept the loss of her son and determines to locate him by delving into the realm of the supernatural, much to the consternation of her anxious husband (Fernando Cayo) who’s convinced she’s losing her mind.

The living co-exist with the dead with spine-tingling synchronization as Laura straddles both worlds in an effort to save Simón and unravel the decades old mystery buried deep within the walls of her old home. Through the efforts of a police psychologist (Mabel Rivera) and a creepy medium (Geraldine Chaplin) treacherous secrets are revealed.

Guillermo del Toro disciple Juan Antonio Bayona makes menacing magic with his chewy, old-fashioned ghost story. Traditional elements are well represented -- doors on squeaky hinges, things that go bump in the night and dead children come out to play -- shaped in crisp and elegant style.

Moody shadows of “The Shining” and “The Sixth Sense” cloak smart, original storytelling and agonizing undertones of sorrow, remorse and rejection as Laura reconciles her unhappy past and present with the subtle tick of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys echoing throughout.

Brilliant and bracing cinema.