Forgotten Frights, Oct. 25: The Orphanage


Section of the cinematic cemetery: Typical bloodied, gets-under-skin, del Toro-style horror masquerading as intimate family drama

Cause of premature death: Technically, this isn’t really del Toro’s film. He only produced it (Juan Antonio Bayona directed), but released just a year after the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and despite winning some critical acclaim of its own, The Orphanage mostly fell to the wayside. It’s a pity, though, because the film is stylistically very similar to Pan’s and, thematically, is virtually identical to del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone (2001).

What its tombstone would read: A young family moves back into the childhood home of its matriarch, who intends to turn it into an orphanage, but when her young son Simon goes missing, her unrelenting will to find him slowly reveals the house’s dark past.

Why it should be revived: Don’t let the no-good Hollywood-y trailer fool you: Despite its creepy, tired, little-kid-wearing-a-straw-mask kind of exterior, The Orphanage isn’t the entirely forgettable horror you might be expecting. With del Toro behind it, the Spanish-language film is really an eloquent and heartrending ghost story that’s effectively ten times more frightening because you actually care about these characters. At the centre of it is a mother’s love for her son, which basically drives her (and us) to the point of insanity when he goes missing.

The fact that her new house used to be an orphanage is the real clincher though, because is there anything scarier than really, really pissed-off dead schoolchildren? Firm no, as we soon find out. Set against an ocean-side backdrop, this Spanish-language ghost thriller provides one of the most soul-destroying endings you could ask for from the genre. “Si-mon!... Si-mooonnnn!...” Ugh, just kill me, The Orphanage tore my heart out.

By Manori Ravindran

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