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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: January 8, 2008
Reviewed by Diane Carson
The best horror films maximize psychological terror as opposed to sensationalizing physical elements of situations. As a story burrows deep into the mind of its characters and its audience, the impact proves much more difficult to shake. The Orphanage, adopts this approach and adds a sprinkling of supernatural elements to relate a gripping tale of loss and the unnerving effect on its central character, Laura. Her seven-year-old son Simon mysteriously disappears during a party celebrating the reopening of the title Good Shepherd Orphanage where Laura, thirty years before, happily spent her earliest years before being adopted.

Great psychological dramas must carefully establish the setup as well as the explanation for elusive events, events that don't immediately make logical sense. Both have been expertly rendered by director Juan Antonio Bayona in his feature film debut. The Orphanage's producer, Guillermo del Toro, hand picked Bayona based on his short films, and del Toro certainly knows how to craft superb dramas as proved with his 2006 Pan's Labyrinth which won three Academy Awards and became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever in the U.S. And there is a through line to The Orphanage with an emphasis on childhood fantasy unleashed from commonplace ideas when subjected to stressful situations. Added to the boy Simon's daydreams and flights of fancy are his mother's nightmare when he vanishes.

Her emotional and mental states disintegrate as a result of her grief, confusion, and conflicts with her husband, among others. Her sense of guilt overwhelms her as events unfold, and I refrain from revealing any significant details. The Orphanage does compromise its depth with its inclusion of a few typical horror film tricks-surprises with sounds or edits, someone appearing a bit too quickly or moving just out of sight. It doesn't need these distractions because, those aside, there's a rich story here, atmospherically presented. Sinister, eerie, unsettling-The Orphanage shows the desperation of Laura who can't abandon her search for a son who inexplicably vanishes after describing some imaginary friends who seem to beckon for him. How can this be explained? Can it be accommodated? The Orphanage includes just enough real life emotions and heartfelt loss for us to enter its fantasy and feel Laura's refusal to surrender. In Spanish with English subtitles. At Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.

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