El Orfanato (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007)


As a fairly enthusiastic horror fan, I fail to see the hype surrounding the Orphanage. Many stressed it’s creeping atmosphere, and it’s reliance on suspense oriented scares, but all I saw were a bunch of cheap gimmicks and jump scares. Perhaps my perspective is jaded, I do not personally see much of a place for the well meaning, or at least reasonable spirit within the horror genre. In this case especially, it diffuses the internal struggle the protagonist is experiencing while also minimizing the blow of a certain discovery.

I’m struggling with the idea that because the film breaks the mould of my expectations, that perhaps my view is tainted… but at the same time, I think it seems to miss the point of horror, and the hopefulness seems misplaced amidst the sheer horror of the events having taken place. It failed to explore thoroughly the state of mind of a mother without a son, and ironically, the mother with a tormented past. Though one feels a connection between her and the old Orphanage, it is not built upon much beyond that.

Though I don’t mind a film that is “predictable”, especially with horror a lot of fears are built on expectations of what is to come. We know the formulas and tension and fear is built off of how they interpret or subvert it. In the Orphanage though, the plot feels forced and an obvious introduction of important information via a treasure hunt, is forgotten seemingly days later, while it’s still very much fresh in the audience’s minds. There is something to be said for the audience being more “in the know” then the characters, but this kind of dramatic irony is abused and badly executed… mostly because the only reason the audience is in, and the characters are out is an apparent “amnesia” on the character’s part. Though one can almost understand in times of great stress, that one might forget what initially seemed such an inconsequential game, her ongoing obsession with her son’s “imaginary friends”, makes it difficult for me to believe she would forget the revelatory moment when he shows her what they are capable of.

The film ends off with a sort of Sixth Sense moment, where we are supposed to look back at certain apparently meaningless moments in the film where suddenly everything makes sense. It just strikes me as lazy writing, and a failed opportunity once again. The statement, “What are you willing to do to find your son”, seems to be key in understanding the final sequence after the husband leaves, but it never feels right, or emotionally satisfying. The film is no doubt, interesting in premise, but even with some great ideas about the moral culpability of children and their parents, as well as the sacrifices parents will make for their children. It just seems half-baked, and not particularly interesting.

2 responses to “El Orfanato (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007)

  1. Yay! I’m not the only one who feels that way about the film!

    I saw it at TIFF 2007 and thought it was well made, had some lovely images, a couple of good shocks (not scares, just shocks) and a neat idea at its core, but it never quite worked for me. I even found myself rolling my eyes a couple of times at cliche type moments or actions that just didn’t make sense.

    And the ending…How she gives up life in the “real” world while her husband stays behind – I get annoyed at these distinctions between mother/father roles. The mother is the only one who would do that for her child? Also, doesn’t it imply that she had nothing else to live for in the real world now? The father goes on living his life, but she can only exist as a mother to her child?

    Yeah, I’m most likely reading too much into that, but the movie was already trending on the bad side with me, so there you have it. B-)

  2. Interesting point, I do see that. Maybe it is over analysis, but I’m guilty of it myself, especially with bad films. I call it the “and they’re ugly too syndrome”. As terrible as it may be, if I run into someone who is particularly miserable and terrible, and unnattractive it’s a cherry on top. “They stole money from orphans!… and they’re ugly too”. It’s backhanded, but damn it! It’s true. Sorry for that rant.

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