Despite a great twist ending that will leave you with mixed emotions, this supernatural chiller never quite lives up to its promise as a modern-day spin on the Lost Boys' search for a mother.
The Orphanage sets out to prove that you can never go home again. And if you do, bad things are bound to happen, as Laura (Belen Rueda) soon discovers. She makes the fatal mistake of buying the orphanage she was raised in as her new family house. The pretty creepy mansion--a dead ringer for the one Nicole Kidman occupied in The Others--is too big for Laura, hubby Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their young son, Simón (Roger Princep). So she plans to turn part of it into a home for handicapped kids. While she's busy preparing for the grand opening, Laura finds herself dealing with what appears to be a cry for attention by Simón. She's already concerned that he's playing with an imaginary friend, Tómas. Now Simón wants her to participate in a strange treasure hunt that his new pal's organized. Days later, Simón--who doesn't know that he is adopted or HIV positive--goes missing. When an exhaustive search fails to produce any leads, Laura begins to suspect that Simón's disappearance has something to do with Tómas. She quickly comes to believe that a masked boy she saw in the house before Simón's disappearance is Tómas, and that the games the boys played together may have turned deadly. When things start to go bump in the night, Laura and Carlos call in a psychic (Geraldine Chaplin) right of out of Poltergeist to determine who or what is terrorizing their home. The answer, or so it seems, has to do with Laura's past.
Yes, Rueda is playing a mother frightened and concerned that her child's vanished without a trace. But as the fraught Laura prepares to face the supernatural forces that apparently roam her home's hallways, Rueda loses control of herself. She gets hammier and hammier as her search for Simón drags on. And The Orphanage unfortunately suffers for it. Under the circumstances, you don't expect Rueda to bottle up her emotions. Not every woman can be as cold and aloof as Nicole Kidman whenever her child is in grave danger. But that doesn't excuse Rueda from failing to exercise some restraint. Cayo merely serves as a shoulder to cry on. As the caring but skeptical husband, he's not required to get as deeply involved in uncovering the truth behind Simón's disappearance. Princep comes across as cute rather than precocious, even when he's freaking us out with his conversations with Tómas. Chaplin's downright kooky as the psychic--you half expect her to scream out "Don't go into the light!" at any moment during a séance at Laura's home.
What a surprise. New Line already plans to Americanize the Spanish-language The Orphanage for subtitle-phobic audiences. Like The Grudge and The Ring, The Orphanage is told from the female perspective. It's more unsettling than scary, and it's deceptively light on the blood, so naturally a remake can be neutered to earn a teen-friendly PG-13 rating. Unlike its J-Horror counterparts, though, The Orphanage makes sense from beginning to end. Sure, you wonder how much director Juan Antonio Bayona intends to plunder from The Others, The Sixth Sense and Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth (Del Toro also produced The Orphanage). But all the pieces fall right into place when Laura finally uncovers the truth. It's not what you're expecting, but it fits perfectly with Bayona's efforts to tell a ghost story by way of Peter Pan. All the clues pointing to this surprising and shocking bittersweet endingone that M. Night Shyamalan will kick himself for not coming up with firstare there in plain sight, but they are easy to miss amid all the spookiness. Despite this, though, The Orphanage is never as intriguing as the life-or-death games Laura must play during her frantic search. Worse, The Orphanage borders on tedious as Rueda becomes more and more overwrought, and the one or two instances of pure horror seem out of place in a film that tries to be more haunting than an out-and-out gorefest. Let's hope these problems are addressed and fixed in the remake. The Orphanage may then prove to be as memorable as TThe Sixth Sense.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.