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The Orphanage

Released 2008. Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

A BIG HOUSE, A DISTRAUGHT MOTHER, A CHILD WHO ‘SEES’ INVISIBLE KIDS. The Orphanage is a ghost story with much in common with The Others (2001) and it’s easy to see why. It’s a perfect setting: a cavernous haunted house with too many rooms and dark corners. Its driving forces are fundamental: the instincts and the unquestioning devotion of a mother to protect her child.

Once again we see how in capable hands, long corridors, closed doors, darkened hallways and noise in the night can still prick up the fear factor, despite these clichés having been used and misused a hundred times. Beneath the surface frights, The Orphanage takes you deeper into characterisation and motivation. A mother and her sick son; the mother's history with an orphanage; a social worker and her dead son; and the group of little fatherless and motherless children – all connected by a painful loss in their lives.

As the strange happenings continue, our intuitive perception of children is being twisted. They are no longer innocent and vulnerable but menacing and sinister – but are the children just being themselves, merely playing and quite harmless?

The scare factor in The Orphanage doesn’t always rely on shock tactics. The most suspenseful sequence, which involves a blind medium in a séance conducted in the dark, is handled with breath-stopping tension. At the same time, the story unfolds as a mystery. A boy goes missing at his own birthday party. How could he just vanish into thin air with so many people around in the house? The mystery deepens when the mother begins picking up clues – like children playing treasure hunt leaving morsels of information to lead others to a final destination.

Unlike conventional scary movies about ghosts and restless spirits wreaking chaos and confusion on the living, The Orphanage is actually rather moving in its unexpected conclusion. Through her desire to rehabilitate an abandoned orphanage to care for disabled children and to be with her young son, a woman comes face to face with the ghosts of her childhood and makes an irreversible decision that only a parent could.

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