Halloween Horror Movie Month: The Orphanage (2007)

Yup, kids are still creepy.

The plot centers on Laura (Belén Rueda), who returns to her childhood home, an orphanage. Laura plans to turn the house into a home for disabled children, but a problem arises when she and her husband realize that their son Simón (Roger Príncep) believes he has a masked friend named Tomás with whom he will run away. After an argument with Laura, Simón is found to be missing.

It’s a swell reminder to know that horror films can still be as freaky and scary as they were back in the day, without the loads and loads of amounts of blood, gore, and special-effects. Times have obviously changed and most horror films need these three ingredients to work, or even call themselves a “horror film”, which is why I’m glad to finally see one that doesn’t use that crap to it’s advantage. Sadly, it’s not from an American. It’s from that damn Spaniards! Grrr!

What I liked so much about Juan Antonio Bayona‘s direction is that the guy brings it back old-school, in terms of how he freaks the audience out. Instead of just showing us freaky stuff left-and-right and letting us know what we’re going to see next, he keeps us in the dark, and keeps us waiting as to what’s going to just pop-out at us next. You never know what floor this guy is on because he always moving around and I liked that. No matter how familiar or predictable you think this story is going to be, Bayona slips one from right underneath you, and leaves you behind wondering where this guy is going to go next with the story. That utter sense of unpredictability is what kept in-line for what I was watching, but there was still a great deal of tension that was actually killing me on the inside.

You never really get the full-out “boo” scares here, and even when they do come around, they feel deserved and not cheap in the least-bit. So, instead of getting these “boo” scares, we get a bunch of creaks, laughter, movement, and random other noises that have you wondering just what the hell is going on in this big house and it always kept me on the edge of my seat. I always thought something was going to pop-out at me and scare the bajeebers out of me, but somehow, it didn’t and I like how Bayona played that way. He isn’t subtle with his scares, but he;s very tense about it and that’s what I liked most about the whole horror-aspect to this flick. It scares you, without ever really trying to. It just does and that’s something to hold onto in terms of the horror genre.

Where I thought this film did fail was in the whole story itself. The main story of this mother looking all over the place for her lost son is a nice one, but it gets way too hammered over the head, almost to the point of where it’s repetitive. At first, when the kid is around, it’s the same old crap where the kid just constantly sees these “ghost-like creatures”, the momma doesn’t like it, and tries to get him to stop. This happens a couple of times, until the kid goes away and then it shifts off into her being a nut, and looking for him on her hands and knees wherever she goes. Some of this was fun to watch because of how Boyan kept the unpredictable nature of this flick going, but the other times, it just felt boring and over-used. It was almost like they had all of these scares lined-up and ready for the flick, but they just needed a story to bring them altogether in order for them to make sense, so they just had this one, simple story of a mom going crazy of the search of her son. Lame-o!

Even though her character can be a bit annoying, Belén Rueda is still a delight to watch as Laura, and had me rooting for her the whole way. What I liked about this Laura character was that she came off as very three-dimensional in many aspects. The woman loves her son, wants him to be happy, and wants him to feel like he belongs in the world, but just wants him to get out of his funk, where he constantly talks to ghosts and plays weird “hide and go seek” games with them. That, in a way, is pretty understandable since all mothers just want their kids to be “normal” (not mine, she knew I was fucked up from day one), but her character becomes richer once her son is taken from her and we see a real-life, human-being come out of her and we can’t help but feel for the gal when she goes through this rough-ass patch in her life. Rueda is not only beautiful, but also feels like a real mother that just wants her son back and the transformation she goes through is believable and understandable to the fact that you believe in everything she does, and has done in the past 2 hours. See horror movies, you can have three-dimensional characters and still be scary. Wowwwwww…..

Roger Príncep was pretty good as her son, mainly because he wasn’t annoying and as cute as a button. That sounded a bit weird coming out of my mouth (or finger-tips, whatever you wanna call them) but don’t try and tell me that you didn’t go “aww” at least once when you saw the picture of that kid. Okay, I’m done now with my pedophilia-like ways. The one in this cast that I didn’t like and sort of took me out of the whole film whenever she showed up was the lady who played the creepy, old gal named Benigna. What I didn’t like about her was how goofy and cartoonish looking she seemed to be in a film that seemed pretty realistic in terms of the type of horror it was going for and how. The story was pretty realistic even though it concerned ghosts and whatnot, but every time she showed-up, I just wanted her to go away and bring back the realism to a tale that seemed to have a lot of that going for it.

Consensus: The Orphanage is not the non-stop scare-fest you would expect from the idea/premise, but still delivers a creepy atmosphere, packed with endearing characters, an emotionally-charged story, and a solid performance from Rueda, who makes her character so much easier to stand-by, even when it seems like she’s losing her mind.



  1. I’d actually forgotten about this movie, and I found it very creepy. The whole thing gave me this unsettling feeling right from the beginning. And I liked the fact that it wasn’t over-the-top with gore and special effects. When a movie tries to make me jump every five seconds, it doesn’t scare me — it makes me roll my eyes. (I’m looking at you, The Woman in Black.)

    Plus, as a mom, I’ve had recurring nightmares about kids disappearing, which really bumped up the creepiness factor for me. 🙂 Great review!

  2. I loved The Orphanage. Like you, I liked the way it didn’t force jump scares down my throat and it was genuinely sad at times. A lot of horrors just go for the scares and nothing else; when a film combines scares with other emotions, I find it much more effective. Nice review Dan.

  3. Such a great film! I work in a video store and if the customer is open to foreign films, I usually recommend them The Orphanage if they want something scary.
    It reminds me of a Spanish, The Others, what with it being so delicately and beautifully made.
    It’s also got one of the best jump scares in a film ever (the old lady who’d been run-over).

  4. LOVE this film. Like you say, it’s the perfect example of a beautifully told, chilling scary film without all that schlocky blood and gore. Think I may just crack it out again this Halloween.

  5. This film makes me scared every time I hear, “Uno dos tres, toca la pared!”

    I really enjoyed El Orfanato, and was genuinely scared, but I’ve never been able to watch it again because the ending is so sad.

  6. Another great selection Dan-o. This is one of those Horror movies thats not really all that scary, but its an excellent film. Creepy as hell, kind of moving in a sick way… I liked it a lot, too.

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