Touted as “this year’s Pan’s Labyrinth”, The Orphanage has next to nothing in common with Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy epic save for his name above the title. The reality is that The Orphanage is a much scarier and creepily resounding film with its feet purely planted in horror’s hallowed ground, so comparisons to the whimsical, fantasist Pan’s are a bit misleading. That’s good news for fans of old school ghost stories, but bad news for folks looking for grown up fairy tales (although The Orphanage has a little of that going for it, too).
Laura (the stunning Belén Rueda) and her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), purchase the abandoned orphanage where Laura spent her childhood in the hopes of turning their new home into a place for severely handicapped children. Their son, Simon (Roger Princep), has already made new friends of the invisible variety, and introduces his mother to the game he and his friends have created – a sort of scavenger hunt-meets-hide and go seek. At first Laura credits this all to Simon’s active imagination, but, following a disturbing visit by a mysterious elderly social worker, a round of Simon’s little game leads Laura to the revelation that the boy has somehow discovered that he is not only not her biological son, but that he’s also critically ill. Simon insists his new friend Tomas has told him this, and, once again, his parents write this off as the child’s overactive imagination.
A few days later, Laura and Carlos throw a costume party to welcome the children to their new home. While trying to encourage Simon to join in the festivities, Laura becomes angry with him when he offers to show her where Tomas lives. Wary of the scrutiny of her guests, Laura demands that her son stop making up stories, and confines him to his room. Soon after, a young boy in a sack mask and tattered old robe attacks Laura, leading her to believe that her son’s imaginary friends may not be so imaginary after all. When she and Carlos go to check on Simon, however, they discover that the boy is missing, and thus begins Laura’s desperate quest to find her son and, in the process, uncover the long buried secrets of the orphanage.
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, The Orphanage is an atmospheric, elegantly crafted spookfest in the vein of such classics as “The Changeling”, and “The Haunting” (the 1963 original, of course), buoyed by a bravura performance by Rueda, an engaging story filled with devious twists and turns, and some seriously intense scares. The only real gripe I had with The Orphanage was with its overly sentimental conclusion, in which Bayona injects a little bit of the fantastic to the proceedings with syrupy-sweet results.
New Line’s Blu-ray presentation of The Orphanage sports a wonderfully sharp and balanced VC-1 transfer that faithfully recreates the film’s rather staid color palette of earthy browns, deep blues, and silver-grays. I noticed a bit of artifacting in the film’s penultimate sequence - a rather dark scene in a basement – but it’s very brief and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t even notice. Seeing, however, as I pointed it out for you, you will notice it, so kudos to me for ruining part of your viewing experience.
Try as I might, though, I couldn’t possibly ruin the lush and enveloping Dolby 5.1 DTS soundtrack. Sadly, I don’t own a 7.1 system, so I couldn’t watch the film with the DTS HD track, but the “standard” 5.1 served me just fine, with a perfectly balanced mix and some super creepy sonic imaging in the surrounds (which, in a quietly suspenseful film like this, goes a long way). Nice stuff!
The Orphanage comes pretty well stocked with extras, but the pickings are slim in terms of HD stuff. We get a pair of 1080p photo galleries, while the rest is the same standard definition stuff that is offered on the DVD, including a 16 minute making-of, several short featurettes, and the film’s trailer. All of the above is featured in Spanish with English or Spanish subs.
While it may not exactly be “this year’s Pan’s Labyrinth”, The Orphanage is still a fantastically frightening and beautifully filmed ghost story, and New Line’s Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds wonderful. If you’re looking to lend some class to your Blu horror collection, you can’t do much better than this.