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Feature


The Orphanage tells the story of Laura, who buys her childhood orphanage and moves in with her husband Carlos and son Simón with the intention of opening a home for handicapped children. Simón tells Laura that he has invisible friends, which she assumes are products of his imagination, but he vanishes and six months later she starts to suspect that the house may be home to more than just her family. It becomes clear to her that events from her childhood at the orphanage are having an effect on her life in the house and she hopes the clues she finds will lead her to her son.

 Orphanage, The
Opening with an inventive credits sequence, what I noticed early on was that The Orphanage is very carefully constructed. This is partly down to the screenplay, where valuable pieces of information are given to us about Laura’s past and Simón’s disappearance, but also due to the way the film was edited and (if you watch the included deleted scenes) what was left out. We’re given just enough information to move us from one scene to another but the way forward is never signposted and for once I think the number people who can predict the twist of what happened to Simón will be few and far between.

This method of storytelling is most evident in the treasure hunt scenes, where Laura and Simón (and then Laura on her own) follow clues around the house that take them from room to room towards a goal that makes them suspect all is not right in the orphanage. I thought this worked incredibly well to keep the viewer engaged because I felt like I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a second in case we get another vital clue. We’re made to feel like we’re piecing the clues together along with Laura and it’s testament to the writer that I only discovered certain things when the characters on screen did, rather than shouting at the screen when everyone can’t get a grip of something blindingly obvious, as is the case with many lower quality movies of this type.

 Orphanage, The
At its core The Orphanage is a story about a mother coping with the loss of her son, but the melodramatic aspects of the plot don’t overshadow the horror elements. There are some really good scares and some slightly gory moments, which are more shocking due to the fact that the way these scenes were filmed makes you think you’re not going to see everything. The use of creepy noises around the house is particularly unsettling and, as I’ll discuss more in the audio section further down the page, the detail in the sound editing is very impressive.

The character of Laura is central to the plot and Belén Rueda’s performance is very convincing, as she treads a fine line between grieving mother and scream queen. Roger Princep was a good find by the casting director as the young Simón, whose character ranges from innocent child to a possible bridge between this world and the next. Simón’s father Carlos takes a back seat so there is less for Fernando Cayo to work with in this role, although this was undoubtedly the intention since the focus is firmly on Laura throughout the film.

 Orphanage, The
It’s easy to make comparisons between The Orphanage and other great scary movies like The Shining and The Others, but I also noticed elements of Alien. A sequence of shots of empty rooms around the house early on to show that the orphanage is empty just before a large number of people arrive reminded me of the sequence in Alien on board the Nostromo just before everyone wakes up. This is also used towards the end of The Orphanage to great dramatic effect. With his name above the title on the posters, Guillermo del Toro’s presence looms large over this film, but I have to say I’m looking forward to seeing more from director Juan Anonio Bayona, who has constructed an intelligent, scary and dramatic movie in The Orphanage that will keep you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.

Video


The Orphanage is presented in 1080p at a ratio of 2.35:1 and this visually rewarding movie is not let down by the video quality on offer here. Darkness is very important to drawing the viewer into the movie and thankfully I failed to pick out grain or compression artefacts in the dimly lit scenes, where I may have expected to find them. The purposely muted colours are well represented and black is black, not dark grey. The detail in the picture wasn’t apparent until the editor cuts to wide external shots, which is where I have found high definition releases have impressed me most since I have been reviewing the formats.

 Orphanage, The

Audio


The soundtrack plays a major part in setting the mood and providing the scares in The Orphanage and I’m pleased to report that the transfer does the audio justice. This disc comes with two tracks—Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which I sampled for this review. The detail in the sound edit is impressive and the surround channels are given a good workout by the creepy noises around the house. The loud bangs that occur at key moments are powerful enough to give anyone sitting by a rear speaker a good fright. Silence is important to building the tension and I could not detect any interference on the track to take the viewer out of the experience. Fernando Velazquez’s score adds a lot to the movie, adapting the tone to match the changing mood in certain scenes. Overall, the quality of the track is incredibly difficult to fault and this is definitely a movie that uses its soundtrack to immerse the viewer in its universe.

Extras


The first extra feature in this decent selection is a forty-minute Q&A session with the director, hosted by the Elvis-coiffed Mark Kermode. Bayona talks about his desire to make a film that delivers on what it promises, given that he has tired of the state of movies where comedies don’t make him laugh and horror movies don’t scare him. There are nine deleted scenes that come with director’s commentary, including an alternative opening and ending. Bayona is honest about the reasons for their exclusion and it makes this a set of deleted scenes that are actually worth watching.

 Orphanage, The
The featurettes all focus on the production, each from a different perspective. ‘Making of’ is the longest of the bunch at twelve minutes and reveals a lot about the screenplay. Guillermo Del Toro is on hand to say that it was the best genre screenplay he had read in a long time and the cast all discuss their characters. ‘The Set’ looks at the house that provides the base for most of the action and reveals that the ceilings were computer generated. ‘The Sound’ features interviews with the sound designers and they also provide commentary over the séance scene.

There is a longer interview with del Toro and Bayona, where they discuss the similarities between The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth and the dramatic need to digitally change the skies from sunny to cloudy. ‘Lighting the Darkness’ includes more interviews with Bayona, where he discusses the mix of horror and melodrama and his desire to make a film that is both shocking and moving. ‘Casting’ focuses on exactly what you think and shows us the audition that got Roger Princep the role of Simón. ‘Shooting the Credits’ gives us behind the scenes footage of the work that was done with a group of children to create the clever opening title sequence.

Next up is a set of comparison of storyboards with three key scenes—the séance, the treasure hunt and the appearance of Tomas. ‘Animatics’ isn’t the 3D sequences you might be expecting, but a sequence of storyboards edited together, along with commentary from Bayona again who tells us how useful they were in planning these scenes. Finally we get the full length versions of the projector reels that make an appearance in the movie and three different trailers for The Orphanage.

 Orphanage, The

Overall


We’re only just half way through the year, but The Orphanage is right up there as one of the best movies I have seen in 2008 and I’m confident it will still be up there by December. The movie looks and sounds very good on this release and while the DVD release will almost certainly be of a relatively similar standard, this is definitely a disc that could be used to show off the presentation potential of Blu-ray. Unfortunately there aren’t any BD-exclusive extra features, but what is here adds a lot of value to the viewing experience so this package as a whole gets a big ‘thumbs up’ from me.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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