After probing the dark enchantment of Pan's Labyrinth, it's not terribly surprising to see why Guillermo del Toro would be interested in executive producing J.A. Bayona's debut ghost story, which also draws on the fascist era of Franco in Spain. The Orphanage is an effectively scary picture about guilt, retribution, and acceptance, and it shares some of the spectral potency of Alejandro Amenabar's The Others.
Laura (Belen Rueda) returns to an abandoned orphanage in Spain where she once lived when she was a child. Along with her husband and their frail child, she hopes to restore the orphanage to help other children who have been abandoned. But the house has a dark history that Laura begins to face once her son starts seeing the ghosts of children past. Before long, Laura's son disappears, leading her to search not only for his whereabouts but also through her own past. What she discovers is a horrible fate afforded to the children that she had once shared her life with.
Rueda, who was marvelous in The Sea Inside, gives another superb performance as an obsessive woman whose need to protect her son blinds her to painful realities. Like Nicole Kidman in The Others, she gets at the primal emotions buried under layers of repressed hysteria. Although the plot has a familiarity that undercuts some of its originality, Bayona's direction is confident with authority. The Orphanage unfolds like a fever dream.
Cast: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Geraldine Chaplin and Montserrat Carulla
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenwriter: Sergio G. Sanchez
Producers: Mar Targarona, Joaquin Padro and Alvaro Augustin
Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Rating: R for some disturbing content
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: December 28 ltd., January exp.
Reviewed: Toronto International Film Festival 2007