The Orphanage

Jan 11, and still no sign of this movie playing in this dump. Bah!

This must have hit wider release, because I saw it yesterday at my local Regal googleplex.

I really enjoyed it. It’s a difficult film to characterize, though. What I read of it beforehand (not much, as to avoid spoilers) seemed to indicate it was something of a “heartwarming horror” film, if you can imagine that kind of crazy combination. A couple of reviewers on RottenTomatoes said at they end they teared up, and I can see how that happens. So it’s a feel-good supernatural thriller??

As I’m typing this it strikes me that it’s somewhat like The Sixth Sense in that there are supernatural elements, and scary parts, but that for the most part they’re not trying to shock you. There’s actually very little blood in the film, and only a couple of … what’re they called… jump cuts? The scenes where something happens out of the blue to try to get you to jump out of your seat (in fact, the worst jump scene I saw last night was in a Jessica Alba trailer called The Eye(?) where the jump scene was so obviously coming that it didn’t make much of an impact).

At any rate, it’s definitely a movie worth seeing. I was tossing up whether to see this or National Treasure (since it was “go see a movie your wife has no interest in”) and I’m definitely glad I saw this one instead of the usual schlock.

At any rate, this is a film I think even my wife, who absolutely hates horror flicks, would enjoy.

I liked it. Very mom/wife friendly.

I liked it a lot, too. I found it to be quite scary, and most of the film’s creepiness comes from slowly building tension, which is something of a lost art in horror movies these days. Definitely recommended. As rrmorton said, it’s hard to believe that this is the work of a first-time director.

I loved it (It’s wife approved!)
Ben and I were trying to get another couple to see it with us, but we could tell that my (female) friend wasn’t in to it. Her boy friend would have loved it, as he spent some time in spain, and speaks spanish.

It’s a good super-natural psychological thriller. It’s scary in the same way that “The Six Sense” was scary, but there’s no gore.

I think that this is another case where the trailers do the movie a disservice, as they make it out to be a shlocky horror film, when in fact it’s a great thriller.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There are two gory scenes–one of them particularly so, though it’s very brief. But overall, yeah, definitely more of a psychological thriller than a schlocky horror film.

If I hadn’t known beforehand del Toro produced it instead of directing it, I would have assumed the latter. I guess I’d have to watch it right after Devil’s Backbone or something to see the differences. And I don’t mean that as a negative, really. Subtler ghost stories always have a place with me.

Wow, excellent movie. Three weeks into January and I already saw one of the 10 best movies of this year. Unbelievable. As others said, it’s a really scary movie, but scary in a tense way rather than a gory or cat-scare sort of way. Cool story, too.

Charlatan: that’s not what “jump cut” means. A jump cut is just an edit where you move abruptly from one scene to another.

Ok so what’s it called when something scary comes out of nowhere, like sort of a SPOILER when the old lady gets hit by the bus? END SPOILER

Spring loaded cat.

I guess, but that tends to cover primarily fake scares, no? Or does it cover the mechanic more than the content?

::spoilers ahoy::
Actually, what I found particularly effective is when the director would build up tension and release it in a way that isn’t particularly scary. For example, when the wife is lying in bed talking to her husband who has just gotten into bed with her, the camera never shows him while she’s talking to him, so you know something isn’t quite kosher. It’s a little anti-climactic that there’s actually nothing in bed with her, but in a good way. Same thing when she’s holding Simón in the blanket in the end of the film.

I also liked that you can geninely see the husband’s non-paranormal point of view. Everything can pretty much be explained away by the wife being psychotic with grief and the paranormal investigators being self-serving.

Damn fine film, despite the fact that it (or perhaps because it) startled the fuck out of me in serveral places.

Very true about the husband. The script is exceptionally good.

I’ve seen it twice now. It’s everything I look for in a scary movie and the best film I’ve seen in ages. Just brilliant.

One nitpick I have is that the opening credits don’t fit the tone of the movie. Plus they set you up to look for some important wallpaper moment that only kinda sorta happens late in the movie.

I also thought they could have found a better actor to play the boy Simon. He was merely passable.

HUGE, MOVIE-RUINING SPOILERS

It does have some of that Pan’s Labyrinth is-it-or-isn’t-it vibe, but ultimately (in my mind at least) the movie is very clear that the ghosts are real. In Pan’s, I thought it was pretty 50-50, even at the end – you could make good arguments in favor of the fantasy world being real, and good arguments in favor of it being all in Ofelia’s head (and we had a lot of those discussions in the thread about the movie when it first came out). But in The Orphanage, by the end you can’t really buy the husband’s point of view. There are too many things that can’t reasonably be explained away. You would have to believe that Simon planted the first set of clues (fairly sophisticated for a kid, but not impossible), that the paranormal investigators were a group of elaborate con artists (a real stretch IMO), and that the mother was hallucinating – not so much of a stretch when she’s deep in her grief, but what about the night of the costume party? She’s already having full-blown hallucinations then? She doesn’t even really know that Simon is missing yet, and she’s already seeing, hearing, and touching Tomas, hurling herself into the bathtub, slamming her own hand in the door, etc.?

And there are two really damning pieces of evidence that can’t be explained away: (1) Simon first meets Tomas in the cave where Tomas actually died. It’s possible Simon learned the other stuff he knows (his heritage, illness, etc.) by overhearing conversations or reading his file, but there is no possible way he would know where Tomas died. The only way to reconcile this with the “no ghosts” theory is to say that it’s just coincidence. Weak. (2) The second set of clues. Who plants those? It can’t be anybody but ghosts. It can’t be Simon (unlike the first set), because the clues lead to Simon’s dead body. It can’t be Laura, because she has no idea where Simon’s body is (i.e., no way to know where the clues should ultimately lead). There’s just nobody you can pin it on other than the ghosts. The best non-ghost theory I can think of is that it’s Laura, because she subconsciously knows what happened to Simon and doesn’t want to face it, and this is the only way she can gradually bring herself to confront what happened. But that seems really weak, because there’s no reasonable way that she would, even subconsciously, know what happened to Simon.

The other option is to say that Laura’s so insane that she “remembers” finding the clues and Simon’s body but really doesn’t find any of that stuff, just kills herself with pills, but at this point you’re so far off what the movie is showing you that you might as well just make up any story you want.

So in my mind, it’s got to be ghosts.

Overall, I also tend to lean pretty heavily towards the “ghosts are real” angle, but just to play devil’s advocate…

WARNING: MORE HUGE SPOILERS

I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. The clue hunt was supposed to be a children’s game (even the ghosts were children), and it’s obvious in the beginning that Laura thinks that he is the one who planted them. And actually, it’s likely that he did do the first set, because he had clearly already read that file in the locked drawer when they found it.

that the paranormal investigators were a group of elaborate con artists (a real stretch IMO),

That also doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. They would have known the whole story in advance, since Laura had told all the details (about the history of the orphanage, and Simon seeing imaginary children, and everything else) to the guy who brought them to the house. So at the very least, they had the means and the knowledge to stage that sort of deception. Whether or not they had the motive is the only real sticking point. As to that, who can say? But “paranormal investigators” in real life stage similar hoaxes, whether for funding or publicity or just because they want to get people to believe in the paranormal. So it’s not beyond the pale.

and that the mother was hallucinating – not so much of a stretch when she’s deep in her grief, but what about the night of the costume party? She’s already having full-blown hallucinations then? She doesn’t even really know that Simon is missing yet, and she’s already seeing, hearing, and touching Tomas, hurling herself into the bathtub, slamming her own hand in the door, etc.?

This was the point that I felt proved that the ghosts were real, at first, but after thinking about it, I did come up with another plausible explanation for the appearance of Thomas at the costume party: it was actually Simon. I’ll go into the specifics below, but for now, consider this: he was wearing Thomas’ mask when she found his body in the basement.

And there are two really damning pieces of evidence that can’t be explained away: (1) Simon first meets Tomas in the cave where Tomas actually died. It’s possible Simon learned the other stuff he knows (his heritage, illness, etc.) by overhearing conversations or reading his file, but there is no possible way he would know where Tomas died.

Actually, there is. In Thomas’ little house, we see a bulletin board covered with his drawings of all the other children, as well as (I’m pretty positive) newspaper clippings about his death. After he died, that room probably became something of a shrine for his crazed mother, as she plotted her revenge. We don’t know when Simon discovered this room, but we know that he did find it at some point, and it definitely presents a non-supernatural way in which he could have aquired all of his knowledge about the children who used to live in the house, including all of their names, and Thomas’ name and ultimate fate.

(2) The second set of clues. Who plants those? It can’t be anybody but ghosts. It can’t be Simon (unlike the first set), because the clues lead to Simon’s dead body.

But that wasn’t necessarily what they were supposed to lead to.

Simon was really mad at her during the party, on one level because he wanted her to play with him and she was too busy with the party, and I think he also still had some festering resentment about his own adoption, probably amplified by the fact that the party was all about the new children that his not-real parents were going to bring into the house to live with them (which he was not very happy about, understandably). Anyway, he specifically wanted her to come and play with him in “Tomas’ little house,” which was clearly the hidden room in the basement. But they had a fight over that, and Laura ended up hitting him, and then told him to play by himself if he didn’t want to come down to the party, and that’s where they left it.

So Simon is angry and feeling unwanted, and decides to set up a game where HE is the precious thing that’s missing, and Laura will have to stop paying so much attention to all of those kids at the party and come look for HIM. He sets up clues that will lead to Thomas’ little house, and then he is the one in Thomas’ mask that locks Laura in the bathroom. He probably didn’t mean to actually injure her–he probably just intended to get her attention so that she would know to come looking for him. Freak her out with the Thomas mask, and then lock her in the bathroom so that he would have the time to run and hide before she could come after him. And so he is the one who set up the clues, though his intention was not that they would lead to his corpse, but simply that they would get his mother to come to Thomas’ little house, where he would be hiding.

Mind you, I still lean pretty heavily towards the “ghosts are real” explanation. But I don’t think it’s totally inplausible that they weren’t.

MORE SPOILERS! DO NOT READ!

The ghosts are definitely real. But I agree with jakeline to the extent that you can appreciate the husband’s skeptical point of view given what he knows. Neither of them are acting unreasonably, which is a tricky thing to pull off in a horror script. I also like that their relationship stays relatively strong and healthy throughout all the stress.

One detail I didn’t get until the second time I saw it was that Laura was the one who sealed Simon’s fate when she shifted those metal beams around in the closet and one of them wedged up against the secret door. On first viewing, I understood the tragedy of his going down there in anger and getting trapped and then later when they were home from the hospital he was banging for help and the stairs broke beneath him and he fell to his death. But I missed that detail that it was her shifting the beams in the closet that directly led to the accident. Just horrible, and it’s the main reason I believed she would gulp down those pills at the end.

Beautiful ending too. Having Tomas lead the blind girl to feel her face to confirm the truth. “It’s Laura!”

One thing I didn’t really get was right before that, why Laura looked out the window and saw a young version of herself running away from the house. She never haunted the house so it wasn’t a ghost per se. Maybe it was like a life-passing-before-your-eyes type thing. I don’t know.

So was it Simon or Tomas in the mask at the bathroom door? You can make a good argument either way, that Simon was acting out or Tomas was getting even with her for slapping his new friend. I really like the ambiguity.

Which reminds me of the other nitpick I had besides the opening credits; I think the sound design for Simon/Tomas stalking Laura in the hallway was over the top. He sounded like a purring, snorting animal instead of just the labored breathing of a deformed child. I think that sound points more toward the idea that it was Tomas not Simon.

SPOILERS

I lean towards the explanation that it was Simon, personally, if only because the act seems out of character for the gentle Thomas that we see at the end. Simon, on the other hand, is a good kid but temperamental. And we know for a fact that he was pretty pissed off at that particular point in time, and his mother had just hit him.

He sounded like a purring, snorting animal instead of just the labored breathing of a deformed child. I think that sound points more toward the idea that it was Tomas not Simon.

That’s another reason why I suspect that it was really Simon trying to scare his mother, actually.

SPOILERS!

Okay, maybe. I like that your explanation keeps all the ghosts of the children completely peaceful and benign towards Laura throughout the film. All they do is play games with her and try to help. And Simon does act out like a little brat more than once. Plus, like you said, he’s wearing the mask when she finds him lying in the basement. Okay, I’m with you. But the ambiguity there is really nicely handled.

By the way, this movie reminded me of something. A few years ago here in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side in NYC, I would regularly see a young boy who was severely deformed not unlike Tomas. Rumor had it that the mother had been a junkie while pregnant. The boy’s head was badly bloated and kind of hairless and one eye drooped. His breathing was labored and he had a special inhaler around his neck. His mother or caretaker would take him to the playground where I would sometimes take my daughter when she was a toddler. I wanted to be open-minded and sympathetic but the sight of him just roiled my innards and made me seriously uncomfortable until I had to look away.

One time I watched him playing with a Nerf soccer ball and it rolled away from him and a little girl picked it up. She wanted to play with it so held on to it but he wanted it back. The kind of thing you see happening between children all the time. But this kid walked up to her and thrust his face right into hers until they were practically nose-to-nose and he just grunted. She recoiled in fright and dropped the ball and ran away. It was horrible and shudder-inducing but it made perfect sense. Like he was learning to wield his special power.

SPOILERS

Exactly what Ben said: At the party, Simon was dressed as Tomas in the hall, shoved Laura into the bathroom, then hid in the basement. He couldn’t get out because Laura accidentially wedged the poles against the basement door, and Simon fell to his death while trying to get out that night. (Which, when you think about it, is kind of weak. You’d think they would have torn apart the house trying to find Simon when they didn’t find him in the caves. But I’m just being super nitpicky.) This series of events makes the most sense whether or not you believe there were ghosts. The only loose end it leaves is how Begnina gets back the whistle that Simon-dressed-as-Tomas was wearing when he shoved Laura. Does this mean that Begnina took the whistle off Simon’s body and knew he was dead? Did he drop the whistle someplace and she found it? I suppose it doesn’t matter because I think Begnina’s death was just a freaky-ass macguffin to push along the story of what happened to the orphans.

I’m not actually saying that there were not ghosts. It’s just that usually in horror films, there’s always that guy who doubts the supernatural and gets his comeuppance. But there’s no such contrivance here. The husband remains firm in his disbelief in the ghosts throughout the film, and in the end, is given no reason to change his mind.