Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Orphanage

(2007) ****

Yes, I too was on the Orphanage bandwagon last October. And it was indeed great, but I didn't like it as much as the rest of you. I liked it mostly as much. Since everybody seems to have watched it, I'm not going to hold back on the plot points.

In other words, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Everything about this movie is top drawer. The imagery is nothing short of amazing, starting with the fancy, creepy opening titles and then unfolding to the charming, creepy image above.  I knew the little girl was playing the foreign equivalent of 1-2-3 red light and I knew it was going to come up again later in the movie and she'd be playing it with ghosts. So beginning with this image, in which the children aren't actually there, is brilliant.

And it's no less charming or creepy when the kids get into frame.

I read six other reviews of this (which has got to be a record for one movie during one Horrorthon), so I'll do my best not to repeat everyone's stuff needlessly. First, what I liked:

Sack boy here is a great nemesis. I loved that his attack on Laura is so injurious, slamming her finger in the door so hard it bleeds. That ante is raised when Laura chases Simon out to the beach and gets a freakin' compound leg fracture. Yeesh.

Belen Rueda does a stellar job as Laura. Quoting Landshark: "'s as much a psychological study of grief as it is a scary ghost story. I'm not ultimately sure which aspect of the story ends up being more powerful...." Watching horror movies as we do, we see lots and lots of death but very little in the way of realistic grief. Usually it's not the kind of horror -- real life horror -- that makes a good horror movie. It doesn't always work; you need top-notch actors to make you feel it, and Rueda does a fantastic job doing just that.

Ahh! He's getting closer!

The movie has well-selected peripheral touches that remind you that you're watching a horror movie.  I love the moment when Laura is frantically searching for Simon in the middle of her opening day party.  She's already starting to visibly unravel, she opens the closet and spills the heavy pipes on the foyer floor, and she looks up to see the watching eyes of many concerned parents... wearing masks. That she is being judged harshly by a man in a cat mask, eyes hidden, is perfect. (I of course thought that her home should be boycotted if she lets workmen stash a bunch of heavy pipes in a closet that any of her retarded residents could easily open, but I didn't foresee that particular plot element.)

Another fave moment was when the old evil nun gets run down in the town. Laura gets to have her moment of crazy, thinking the old lady had Simon -- but no. And then zing! the blanket comes off the dead nuns face and her jaw has been knocked off.  Gotcha.

Another great shot. How cool is this?

So, what didn't I like? There was one plot element I wasn't able to make sense of. When the parapsychologists (who were way cooler than those from Poltergeist, I should point out) record the dead kids talking, it sounds like they're all being made sick by the angry, vengeful nun. I assume she poisoned them and passed it off as sickness, but... why then hide their bodies on the grounds? She didn't make them disappear, right? They all got sick and died, at least that's the public perception. Right?  Minor point, but I never figured it out.

A bigger snag was my disappointment with the reveal. When Laura replaces the pipes, she unknowingly seals Simon in the basement. Then, shortly after that, she totally fucks up her leg. Several hours later she and her husband return home, and she hears mysterious sounds inside the walls, culminating in a loud crash. It turns out later that she was hearing Simon's fatal fall.

This felt to me like a monumental tease. Sort of an "oh, you had the chance to find your son, you had several hours before it was actually too late, but he's DEAD now, and you heard it happen! Nyahh!  Nyahh!"  I thought perhaps it would've been gutsier if Simon actually died of dehydration over a couple of days, but I'm sure I would have bitched even more about that -- that someone would have heard him in that time. The ending isn't really a cheat, but it felt that way.

No, I don't have captions for these. They're simply awesome.

This is, for certain, all about me. I will always be a little disappointed when a potentially supernatural mystery turns out to have a terrestrial explanation. I can think of other movies that do this, but I'd be ruining them just by saying the titles.

But my problem isn't only about the ending.  I have a shortage of patience for magical realism, which is (from Wikipedia): an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting.  I'm not using this term in the strictest sense; what I mean to say is that the Orphanage wants to allow the "normal" setting the possibility of eclipsing the magical setting, and that annoys me.

All the supernatural elements are treated as things that could've had other explanations. The pile of stones (shells? I forget) that Laura finds on the front steps is meant to have been left there by her dead orphan pals after following them home from the beach. But Simon could have done that. The scavenging game leads Simon to the documents that reveal he is HIV positive, but he could have put the whole game together himself as a way of letting Laura know he knows.  The only solid proof the ghosts ever really provide of their existence is knowledge, which of course isn't solid at all.  

The belief/disbelief theme is important and woven all throughout the movie.  It will become central to Laura's struggles, as she is left alone to work out what it is that she, and only she believes.  Which means it all might be just as it appears to the outside world -- she found her dead son's body and killed herself, and crazily thought she made this discovery with the aid of ghosts.  

Unfortunately, this open possibility that it was all in her head and there were never any ghosts -- even as a peripheral, sideline thematic point -- really burns my bacon. You're a movie, for crap sake! Don't tell me it's all pretend -- don't tell me your world doesn't have ghosts. Don't dare to remind me how the real, mundane world can barge in and ruin everything. I don't need the reminder, dummy, I already live here.

That's what I mean when I say it's all about me. I'm not saying the idea isn't interesting, and I've enjoyed it in other books and movies. This horror movie had the audacity to make me really feel the grief over the loss of a character, and I give it props for that. It was done just right, and I liked it. But walking the reality line like that has got to be done jeeeeust riiiight for me to like it. I'm a tough room that way, and it cost The Orphanage a star.


Johnny Sweatpants said...

Brilliant review. If I had ink in my printer I would print it out and put it on my fridge with two gold stars.

DCD said...

I agree with JSP - wonderful review. I found more grief from this movie then scares, for the reasons you listed. It really got me that he was there the whole time.

Catfreeek said...

I agree as well, excellent, excellent review. 2 gold stars for sure.
This film also left me with a feeling of loss. I guess the best way to put it is that I felt like I just watched a "real film" afterwords, not just a horror flick but a real honest to goodness well acted film with a solid plot and characters I actually cared about. Lets face it, in the horror genre this is pretty rare.

JPX said...

Terrific review as always, Octo! I agree with all you guys; although there are some scary moments, the film is more an examination of the pathological grief one goes through when losing a child. The tone is reminiscent of The Others, which addresses similar themes. Both films were beautifully shot and very creepy. I respect a 4 versus 5 star review of this film for the reasons you cite.