We went to see "The Orphanage" last night, and you'll forgive me if my review is a trifle disjointed; I slept very badly last night. My reaction to this film is probably best summed up, though, by Art Boy, who walked out of the theater rubbing his hand and said indignantly "You bit me!" I don't remember biting him, but I probably did. For most of the movie I wore a sweater over my face and chewed on the tag in the back. Brr. Brrrr.
I don't want to say too much about this movie. The plot concerns a woman, Laura, who moves back to the now-empty orphanage where she was raised, bringing along her husband and young son; they plan to reopen it as a home for disabled children. But there are strange noises at night, and a mysterious old woman prowling the grounds. Their son, who's always had imaginary friends, starts talking about a creepy-sounding new group of them. Then he disappears.
My instinct was to compare this movie to "The Others," but it's oddly more similar in spirit to the 1963 "The Haunting." The house itself has a secret, a mystery that needs solving before it will leave the inhabitants alone. My favorite element, though, was a subtext about telling children the truth, vs. the white lies we tell to reassure them. (Pulling the burlap over their eyes, as it were.) What happens when those stories go sour? "Is Father Christmas a lie too?" demands a child at one point, reminding me of Art Boy's holiday rant. Seriously, though, if you're a parent, you might find this movie too unsettling. It's pretty grim.
It is also adorably European. I love watching genre movies from other countries for how they violate the U.S. tropes. Bad things happen to kids. Months go by without action. In the climax, Laura swings into full-on ghost-chaser action-heroine mode, stripping down to her tank top and St. Anthony medal like a Spanish Ellen Ripley. Her husband is your classic Spanish male character, sitting back and grunting while his wife runs around solving problems. I just loved all that.
The L.A. Times has a nice review. The NYT has a clip here but I'm alone in the house and absolutely refuse to look at it, so if it's no good, sorry...