Laura, a former orphan, raises her adopted son Simón together with her husband Carlos in an old house and former orphanage where she was raised. While at the orphanage Simón tells Laura that he has five invisible friends which she believes are a product of his active imagination. Laura decides to reopen the orphanage to cater for disabled children and throws a party. During the party Simón tries to persuade Laura to go and take a look at his friends cabin but she's too busy. Later on she sees a mysterious masked boy and realizes that Simón has also disappeared. Laura feels the presence of other people in the house and months later Laura invites a team of parapsychologists to try to unravel the mystery.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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A satisfying thriller on one hand; an equally rich emotional journey on the other
I went into a screening of this today knowing only that it was about a woman who buys the home she lived in as an orphaned child, planning to open it to other orphans, that it mixed fantasy and reality, and that Guillermo del Toro of 'Pan's Labyrinth' had a hand in it. I didn't have any expectations. Even if I did, I certainly not have expected what I got. 'El Orfanato' surprised me first in successfully thrilling me with its surface, and surprised me again in how deeply it moved me with its core.
When Laura (the marvelous Belén Rueda) moves back into the house that used to be the orphanage she lived in as a girl, she is thirty-seven, married, and she and her husband have adopted a son - Simón, a little boy with HIV who doesn't know that he's terminally ill or adopted. Simón is wildly creative - he has several imaginary friends and a penchant for treasure hunts, mind games, and the story of Peter Pan. One day shortly after a mysterious visit from a social worker and Simón's revelation that he knows the truth about his adoption and illness, Simón disappears. The rest of the film follows Laura's desperate search for her son as she comes to terms with her loss and her own past as well.
Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez does a masterful job of balancing the thriller with the drama. Laura's attempts to connect with everything that haunts her and her home are darkly touching, though slightly psychologically twisted. The acting is strong, and the directing, editing, cinematography, and music all work together well. Some of the sound effects - the constant creaking, wind blowing, etc. - got wearisome as the film went on, and some of the thrills were a little cheap - I won't ruin it for anyone by revealing them - though, admittedly, they were effective all the same. The story dragged a little towards the end and during the scene with the medium - cutting it just a little shorter might have been equally as effective and easier on the viewer.
Bottom line: even if you don't like "scary" movies (like me), you'll probably still appreciate and enjoy the more thrilling aspects. If you're a horror flick buff, you'll probably find some of the thriller elements a little tired and overdone. Either way, it's still worth seeing - the exploration of Laura's heart and mind are both lovely and tragic to behold, and though the film is morbid, it is beautiful as well.
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