The Orphanage (2008)


Star – Belén Rueda

Genre – Action> Fantasy>Comic Book

Run Time – 1 hr 45 minutes

Certificate – 18

Country – Spanish

Awards – 32 Wins & 41 Nominations

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

So The Orphanage, a stylish foreign language horror film that scored the biggest box office opening for a film in its native Spain, outgrossing the similarly successful and exquisite chiller Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). It was the top grossing film in Spain in 2007, outperforming Shrek the Third (2007) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), in silver and bronze position respectively. It’s very unusual for a native langue movie to see off Hollywood in that native country. Its meager budget of $4 million dollars smashed back with $78 million, great money for a subtitled film.

With a lot of help from director and friend Guillermo del Toro of Pans Labyrinth fame, Antonio Bayona is director here, his mate helping to produce the film and pulled some strings to double its budget and filming time. Bayona’s vision was for the film to capture the feel of 1970s Spanish cinema and it certainly does that, a touch of gothic, melodrama and bucket of emotion.

It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it received the perfunctory and pretentious 10 minute standing ovation. Sergio Sanchez’s screenplay had been around for a while, penned in 1996, ending up in J.A. Bayona’s lap in 2004. It was well worth the wait and a film comfortable in Spain’s all time top 50 movies.


  • Belén Rueda   …         Laura
  • Fernando Cayo           …         Carlos
  • Roger Príncep …         Simón
  • Mabel Rivera   …         Pilar
  • Montserrat Carulla      …         Benigna
  • Andrés Gertrúdix        …         Enrique
  • Edgar Vivar    …         Prof. Leo Bálaban
  • Óscar Casas     …         Tomás
  • Mireia Renau   …         Laura niña
  • Georgina Avellaneda  …         Rita
  • Carla Gordillo …         Martín
  • Alejandro Camps        …         Víctor
  • Carmen López …         Alicia
  • Óscar Lara       …         Guillermo
  • Geraldine Chaplin       …         Aurora


In 1975 Spain, a young girl named Laura (Mireia Renau) is adopted from a home for disabled and troubled kids. Years later, all grown up, Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the same now closed orphanage, accompanied by her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their seven-year-old adopted and only son, Simón (Roger Príncep). The plan is to reopen the orphanage to be a facility for disabled children once again.

Little Simón claims to have imaginary friends, a boy named Tomás (Óscar Casas) his favorite, and draws pictures of him as a child wearing a mask. Social worker Benigna Escobedo (Montserrat Carulla) visits the house to inquire after Simón. Here we learn that Simón is not only adopted but HIV positive.  Later that night Laura finds Benigna poking around in the orphanage’s coal shed, but Benigna flees the scene, very odd.


With hubby away at work all the time mother and son bond in their new home as Simón teaches Laura a game he plays which grants its winner a wish. Clues, rather unfortunately, lead the two to Simón’s adoption file. Simón becomes angry, and says that his new friend told him that Laura is not his biological mother and that he is going to die soon. During a party for the orphanage’s opening, Laura and Simón argue again, and Simón hides from her. Is this the last time she will see him as he goes missing and the cops are called.

Police psychologist Pilar (Mabel Rivera) suggests to Laura and Carlos that Benigna may have abducted Simón. Laura is increasingly haunted by his disappearance as days turn to weeks as she begins to hear loud noises and experience strange things late at night at the big old house. Laura asks for the assistance of a medium named Aurora (Geraldine Chaplin) in the search for Simón. Anything is better than accepting the kid has gone or worse in the nearby Ocean.


Really enjoyed this and a stylish floorboard creaking, door slamming horror that has quality and atmosphere dripping from it like blood from a tomb. The real punch is the pathos an emotion actress Belén Rueda brings to the film around a mothers relationship to her son, whether the kid is adopted or not. Some say the bond is as strong or not more when mothers adopt as they carry the baggage of being the second mother and so have to try harder to forge a bond. The child will always have the resentment that they were rejected at a young age.

It looks beautiful and although you’re next scared at any point is that raw melodramatic emotion that gets you, the same way The Babadook did for some. It’s a sumptuously made movie with a crashing classical soundtrack of old and every element of the film keeps you involved. The twist is as dramatic, well set up and the ending very European. My only critic would be it needs a little more trills to make you jump as it is a ghost movie after all. But once that ending is delivered you recall other moments in the film that now fit nicely.

===RATINGS=== – 7.5/10.0 (131,324votes) – 87% critic’s approval – 74% critic’s approval



Rolling Stone – ‘A frightening movie that earns its scares the hard way, generating unbearable tension through artful technique instead of computer’.

Sight & Sound –‘This is a movie whose power and emotional pitch lie in the understated: the discreet performances, the lack of special effects, the laconic script’. –‘At a time when American horror seems transfixed by graphic sadism, the acclaimed Spanish chiller El Orfanato harks back to an older tradition of psychological scares and things that go bump in the night’.

The Observer –‘The less you know of this film, the more you’ll be surprised, shocked and, in the end, satisfied’.

The Mail –‘… An intelligent combination of small details, coincidences and scenes of chilling realism’.

NY Times –‘There are no monsters, or slashers, and yet the movie got under my skin so much so that it left me shaky as I walked out of the theater.


What do you think?

Written by Phillip Ellis