Day 9: The Orphanage
Premise: Intending to set up a school for different-abled children, a young woman returns to her old orphanage with her husband and their adopted son. However, things take a turn for the weird when their son starts claiming to see ghostly children, including a boy with a sack mask over his head.
Weird shit is afoot and, when things take a turn for the tragic, the woman is forced to question whether the ghosts are the real danger here.
This may seem like an odd non-sequitur to start this off with, seeing as he wasn’t responsible for directing this movie,but I really love Guillermo Del Toro movies. I love the way he throws himself into every movie with such visible passion and treats all the genres he covers with such respect, be it wartime drama or giant robots smashing shit up.
But when it comes to my favourite GDT movie, funnily enough, it’s not Pan’s Labyrinth or Hellboy or Pacific Rim or any of the more common answers. It’s the Devil’s Backbone, a Spanish-language horror movie that, like this film, is a ghost story set in an orphanage. And in a lot of ways, this movie really does feel like a spiritual successor to that film, both in tone, setting, atmosphere and some of the ultimate themes and twists.
And, quite frankly, I loved the hell out it.
Seriously, this movie captured so many of the things that I loved about The Devil’s Backbone and matched it beat for beat in quality, while still adding its own twists and quirks to set it apart. It creates such a haunting atmosphere, not through jumpscares or loud creepy music, but through a slow build of emotional tension to craft visibly affecting scenes. There was one scene in particular, involving a psychic medium, that just gripped me by my teeth and refused to let go.
A large part of the credit does need to go to the film’s main actress though, Belen Rueda, who carries a large amount of the movie’s emotion on her shoulders and does it magnificently. She really does work as a mother driven half-to-derangement in fear for her child and it never feels too over-the-top or unrealistic. Most of the side cast does a great job too, even if the child actor is a little irritating at times.
But the vast majority of what makes this movie work is the direction. J.A Bayona is increasingly becoming one of those directors who I really need to keep an eye on, especially after his excellent job with a Monster Calls (which beat Train to Busan as my second favourite movie of 2016) and The Impossible. A small part of me wonders what kind of job he could have done with Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, had he not been tied down by Colin Trevorrow’s fairly lousy script. Because here he’s absolutely on point, with an almost masterful control of atmosphere and tension, all leading up to a dramatic emotional climax and a magnificently bittersweet ending.
Admittedly, it’s not all 100% perfect. There are a few scenes that came off a little silly when I think they were meant to be frightening and one scene in particular involving a bus crash had me howling in laughter (although that laughter died pretty quickly after, following a particular scare). And I would say that ultimately I prefer The Devil’s Backbone just a bit more. But the fact that it came this close is certainly meaningful indeed.
Was it Scary?: At points, yes, but it’s more focused around the atmosphere than active jump scares.
Was it Silly?: A few moments here and there, yes.
Overall Grade: A+/A