The Orphanage (2007)

The Orphanage is the directorial debut of Guillermo Del Toro's buddy J.A. Bayona. Del Toro produced it. The movie received huge praise when it first aired at Cannes in 2007. It's about a mother's desperate search for her missing son. The trailer is below, and then check out our review. But not if you don't want this sucker spoiled, because we do that. Hard. Then let us know if you agree or disagree in the comments.

 
 

Jack: The Orphanage, or El Orfanato. I was really excited for this movie. I had heard great things about it. Plus it’s foreign and uses subtitles. That’s shit is classy as fuck.  Oh, and Guillermo Del Toro was a producer? How could it go wrong?

Jake: Once again with the first sentence you type just being the movie title. This is written, and people can see the title at the top, or in the synopsis where we talk about how we’re gonna spoil the shit out of it, or in the trailer, remember? Anyway, why don’t you tell us? How could it go wrong, Jack?

Jack: Easily. It could go wrong easily. Right from the very first scene, everything in this movie felt forced to me. The film begins with the main character, Laura, and her husband and son, Carlos and Simón, moving into an enormous mansion by the sea in Spain. Simón is seven years old and is clearly troubled. Typical child in a horror movie troubled: has some vague illness, talks to imaginary friends. The standard package.

Jake: Definitely. It’s pretty clear that something is off with him. He has to take medication, though we don’t immediately know what for. He also parades around the house, which uses about as much of the color wheel as The Babadook, in superhero garb, not unlike the kid in that movie. This one did come first, but there are definite similarities in the feeling they impart.

Jack: That’s a good point, they do feel similar toward the beginning. There’s an expositional scene early on where Carlos, the husband, is playing piano, and Laura sits down next to him and starts playing also. They then have a discussion about whether or not their son is normal whilst they plunk at the piano. That scene exemplified what I was talking about with forced. It also really made me hate that dickbag pretentious couple. Damn.

 

* Editor's note * Oh yeah, because Archie Bunker was real damn pretentious.

 

Jake: It was here that I first questioned when this movie was set. There’s no real technology to speak of, though it appears to take place in modern day. Now, I know what you’re thinking. They’re Spanish. It’s European. Europeans are cultured. I would then agree with you and remind you that they could have played Baba O’Riley together and that scene would have been awesome. But they don’t. Instead you’re left wondering why that scene needed to take place at a piano at all. The score is heavily piano-based anyway, so I suppose the idea is to blend those elements for a natural fit. It didn’t work for me. It just made me think the husband is a douche.

Jack: They’re both douches. The cinematography is beautiful though. The sprawling shots of the mansion and the beach and ocean are gorgeous. They made me singularly focused on figuring out what this couple did before that they could afford to buy this giant mansion in one of the more beautiful locales on earth. For reals. Were they Exxon VPs or something? Seriously, she’s apparently trained as a caretaker for kids, what the fuck is her husband’s job? Look at this mansion:

 
What, this isn't a normal middle-class home? I guess that just life in Barack Obama's America.

What, this isn't a normal middle-class home? I guess that just life in Barack Obama's America.

 

Jake: The husband is a doctor. And he must be a damn good one given the size of this property. Alternative theory: the movie was filmed in 2006 which was the height of the lending bubble before it popped. Maybe they just assumed massive debt thinking everything would be okay? Sounds like true PIGS sort of thinking to me. We clearly never had that kind of irresponsible mindset in the US...

Jack: Pigs make bacon Jake. There was no bacon in this movie. That kind of mistake is what led to the recession. About the first third of the movie is dedicated to Simón and Laura having adventures around their property. There’s one scene early on that I wonder whether it is supposed to be foreshadowing. Laura lets Simón wander approximately 40,000 fathoms into a cave on his own. The cave is on the edge of the ocean and is a pretty typical cave. Sharp walls, dark corridors, shifting rocks probably, all stuff that is not dangerous at all for sick kids.

 
Pictured: Good parenting.

Pictured: Good parenting.

 

Jack: It’s during this sequence of the film that we learn the nature of Simón’s illness. He’s got HIV. Heavy. And he was adopted.

Jake: Yep. It was a real double-whammy. But the movie keeps going (life metaphor, man), and Simón continues to be horror-kid-weird, playing with his imaginary friend, Tomás. It’s here that the first tinges of creepiness begin to come into play. Simón and Laura play a game he claims to play with said invisible people, and there’s some pretty elaborate hiding of things going on. Laura gets angry with Simón for tampering with things that aren’t his and he straight blows up on her. Typical kid tantrum, but with the added aplomb of a kid who knows his adoptive parents have been hiding that he is adopted from him. How did he know? He claims Tomás. But who is Tomás?

Jack: Enter a social worker from the government (maybe?) who visits to check on Simón. While she’s talking to Laura, we learn why Laura wanted to buy this mansion. The mansion used to be an orphanage (hey, I see what they did there), and Laura was one of its orphans. She now wants to restore the house to what it was, and adopt a gaggle of troubled chill-uns to care for. She just casually drops that in there like it’s a perfectly normal thing: “Hey, I know you’re worried about my ability to care for my aids-riddled son, but don’t worry, because I only want to adopt like, 5 or 6 more sick kids to take care of. Totally reasonable.”

Jake: In any case, it helps move things along to the movie’s first jump scare, which comes when that creepy old social worker is clomping around a shed on the grounds of the mansion in the middle of the night. Laura hears it and goes to check. She opens the shed to see the social worker standing in the darkness clutching a shovel. The social worker then scampers off. It’s fucking comical. It’s clearly supposed to be scary and it is not. Now I know fantasy was an inspiration for this thing, but damn. That fluttery music reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, not seconds after a jump scare in a horror flick. It was jarring.

 
Who me? Don't mind me, I'm just social working.

Who me? Don't mind me, I'm just social working.

 

Jack: And then the movie’s real plot kicks in. Laura throws a party . . . for some reason. It seems like she’s throwing this party to convince parents of deformed kids to give their kids to her for adoption? Seriously, what the fuck was the point of that party? I mean, apart from the family reunion for the mutants from the Hills Have Eyes, what was her end game there? There was even a deformed adult thrown in for good measure. Was she going to adopt him too? What the fuck?

Jake: And once again, the party features medieval-style entertainment. Masks and that game where you run around in circles with ribbons. If they can afford that mansion they can afford something better than that shit. Let these kids play Call of Duty, come on.

Jack: Cornhole at least. I mean shit. It’s at this point that we’re first introduced to Tomás. Tomás is terrifying. Genuinely scary. He’s wandering around the grounds during the party, looking menacing. Then Laura is in the upstairs bathroom, and Tomás menaces his way down the hallway towards her. It’s a terrifying scene. Tomás, in his bag mask, slowly moves down the hallway making some of the more genuinely scary noises I’ve ever heard. I will have nightmares about that scene. Tomás shoves Laura into the bathroom, crushing her hand in the door, and locks her in there. When she gets out, Simón is nowhere to be seen. The deformed kids are all still running around all deformed-like, but Simón is gone.

Jake: Totally agree on this one. We’ve been complaining about this film a bit but that scene was freakin’ great.

Jack: Well I’m glad you’ve decided to censor yourself. It’s about time. How are families supposed to read this around the dinner table with you swearing like a dang sailor? Some time goes by. Carlos and Laura have set up a serial-killer-style cork board in one of their 1,100 rooms. They still have not found Simón. A police officer tells them that it was probably that scary old bitch who was skulking around on their property. No shit. You needed the police to put that together huh? Real good sleuthing, guys.

 
This couple would never have figured out where in the world Carmen Sandiego was. Thank Christ we had top men on that. Top. Men.

This couple would never have figured out where in the world Carmen Sandiego was. Thank Christ we had top men on that. Top. Men.

 

Jake: Several months pass, and they try quite a few different things during this portion of the movie. They go to a real weird bereavement group for some reason, though Laura sure as shit isn’t buying into her kid being dead. She’s still trying to find that shrew of a social worker who she thinks abducted Simon. We’re then treated to a scene that comes out of fucking nowhere. Like a bus.

Jack: Apt my friend. Apt. Laura and Carlos are in a village square, and Laura sees that scary old social worker pushing a carriage with something in it. As they make eye contact . . . BOOM! She’s run over by a bus. Carlos, some sort of action hero apparently, springs to action and runs over to start giving her mouth to mouth. It should be noted that her jaw is hanging literally 18 inches off of her face. It’s so stupid. First off, you’re not supposed to give mouth-to-mouth anymore, it’s called hands-only CPR and it saves lives. Although I have my own problems with that because if it’s hands-only, then it’s just CR. If you’re only using your hands, you’re not doing anything pulmonarily. Fuck. But I digress. Look at the face of the woman upon whom that marmaduke chooses to perform mouth-to-mouth:

 
Ehh, you're fine. Take two asprin and call me in the morning.

Ehh, you're fine. Take two asprin and call me in the morning.

 

Jake: In a tragic turn of events right out of ER, Carlos can’t resuscitate the woman but that’s ok because it allows the police to identify who she was. Turns out she was a worker at the orphanage while Laura was interned there. Tomás was her son, and he was terribly deformed in the face so in another example of shockingly good parenting, she made him wear a burlap sack over his head and kept him mostly hidden away from the other children.

Jack: Good parents all around in this thing. One day the kids were playing and they convinced him to take his mask off while they were in the sea cave. He did and they stole it. The kid was so embarrassed he refused to come out and drowned when the tide came in. Jesus. Also a perfect example of why one shouldn’t let seven-year-olds play unsupervised in sea caves. This is some quality parenting advice you’re getting from us, be sure you’re taking notes.

Jake: Though the subject had been hinted at throughout the film, It’s at this point that Laura firmly goes into her “the answer is ghosts” phase, and what do we get? We get a definite tip of the cap to Poltergeist for one thing. A medium named Aurora comes in and there’s some inter-dimensional talk just like in Poltergeist. Her team brings in about the only technology we see in the movie, with a camera system and lights for hypnotization. A seance is conducted  and she roams around the house, apparently able to see a different time. Despite the technology, the team traces her path around the house on paper for some inexplicable reason. However, through the scene we learn that Benigna, the social worker, poisoned and killed all the kids and buried them unceremoniously in a coal chute. And somehow was never caught, mind you. All this happened like three weeks after Laura was adopted so maybe there’s some Final Destination-style sequel potential for this shit.

 
Don't knock it man. This shit's the epitome of high art.

Don't knock it man. This shit's the epitome of high art.

 

Jack: The movie then hits us with a big twist. It’s interesting. I actually didn’t really see it coming, but reflecting back, I definitely should have. The twist is that during the party, Simón, wearing Tomás’ mask, went into the secret room where Tomás used to be hidden away. Laura unknowingly trapped him in there by piling scaffolding or some shit on top of the door. In an effort to get out, Simón fell down the stairs and broke his neck. Whoops. Although not surprising from someone who let her son sprint into a chasm by the ocean all by himself.

Jake: Loved the twist, and it actually hit pretty hard. That kid died in the house and they have been living and sleeping right on top of his tomb for the last nine months. It’s disturbing. However, I didn’t fully understand the need to go absolutely nuts on the orphanage and make it feel like it was when she was there as a child. Was it to make the ghosts more comfortable with appearing in our dimension? In any case, she plays a game of “peek behind the curtain” to summon these dead kids, and they appear. Its supposed to be scary, but again, its not. They don’t even look ghostly. It just looks like she’s playing a game with some kids who are excessively grey. They lead her to the hidden door to Tomás’ lair, so I guess it works. But how in the fuck did Simón even get down there in the first place? The door is clearly wallpapered over. The movie makes a point of focusing on her as she uncovers the door, so I’m not sure what was going on there. 

Jack: Yeah, it’s pretty frustrating. Did the ghosts also wallpaper back over it? The movie’s ending is odd, too. Distraught with the realization, Laura takes a metric fuck-ton of sleeping pills in an effort to be with Simón. As she fades out of consciousness, she starts seeing all the ghosts that were his imaginary friends. That part wasn’t odd, that was normal. What was odd was how Carlos then looks at the camera and gives a knowing smile. What the hell? Is he happy that she gets to be with Simón? Is he happy to have some merciful relief from his lunatic wife and HIV+ son? Who knows, but what is clear is that the smile feels very out of place.

Jake: I was starting to lose focus near the end there, but I will add that her parading around the house carrying a withered corpse is nasty. She’s kissing it and shit. That really bothered me. Anyway, any parting words for this one or some bullshit drunken quote for our readers? You’ve been conspicuously quiet on that front for a while.

Jack: You know what buddy?! I do! Thank you for asking! I just wanted to make you miss my segment a little. Really see what we had going. Maybe now you won’t shit all over it so much. [GAMESHOW MUSIC] And now the return of Jack’s Incomprehensible Note of the Week!!! Ready?

“GRAVE MADE OF EGGS”

Found that on page 2 of my notes. In a different color of ink somehow. Anyone have any ideas what this means? For Pete’s sake let us know in the comments or by Twitter. Please.


RATINGS (1-10): 

For 1, think of how Moesha would rate a mono-colored blazer:

 
 

For 10, think of how Ken Woodly would rate coffee:

 
 

STORY:

Jack: 5 - The overall story is actually pretty good. I did not see the twist coming, and I really like a horror movie that has the stones to just say “nah, you just killed your son. Also maybe there’s ghosts, but they didn’t have anything to do with him dying.” That’s pretty great.

Jake: 6 - I liked the story when viewed as a whole. There was a genuinely novel twist and it dealt with some interesting topics. I just didn’t particularly the steps we took to arrive at the payoff.

WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:

Jack: 3 - There are very immersive elements. Certainly the gorgeous cinematography is a huge boon in this department. But then there are the scenes where they sit at the piano and play together while discussing their son. And then there’s giving mouth to mouth to a woman with no attached jaw.

Jake: 5 - I didn’t have a problem staying involved with the film. The pacing wasn’t awful and it was very well shot. There were just too many times where I found myself questioning things to really be immersed in the world that was built.

SCARE-FACTOR:

Jack: 4 - This movie has some very unnerving establishing shots. That scarecrow on the grounds is really creepy. Also the scenes with Tomás are truly frightening. I really loved that scene of him walking down the hallway. It’s then intercut with the comical old lady trotting off into the night with a shovel.

Jake: 5 - Going to put this one right in the middle simply because it is very unsettling, and even has a few moments of truly good scares. It just never succeeded at truly making me feel frightened.

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):

Jack: 4 - The effects in the movie are fairly minimal, and it benefits from it. The weakest scenes are those in which it tries to do something different like go for some gore-factor or show the paranormal investigations. The design of Tomas was great.

Jake: 6 - I didn’t actually find Tomás himself that scary, but he was used in such a way that they were able to get the most from his inclusion. Other than that, things were fairly minimal but relatively well done. Nothing got in the way aside from the design of the ghost kids which were not executed as I would have hoped.

OVERALL:

Jack: 4 - I really just did not like this movie very much. It didn’t do much for me on any level. That combined with some very strange scenes that don’t feel like the fit the rest of the movie makes for a relatively low score.

Jake: 5.5 - I know several people who like this movie quite a bit, our editor being one. I just don’t really echo that sentiment after seeing the film. I don’t dislike it that much, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it either. Now, it’s entirely possible and even likely that Jack and I are idiots and missed something so I’m going to throw it up to him for a celeb-shot if he has a couple sentences to add on what this thing has going for it.

 

* Editors Note * I gotta step in here because these two are too stupid for words. I’d give this movie a 7 overall. I don’t struggle with the immersion on this one nearly as much as these bozos did. I actually agree that the social worker scenes add more comedy than fright, but that doesn’t really bother me. I’ve watched this movie a few times now, and after my most recent viewing I think the plot flows better than most other horror movies. It has one of the better horror movie narratives around, a good twist, good pacing, and great cinematography. I also don’t really fault the thing for having a “happy” ending.

* Note to the Editor’s Note * “happy” is in quotations because the ending is that of a psychologically broken woman cradling and speaking to a very decayed corpse while she downs copious amounts of sleeping pills. She dies with her adopted son’s rotted body in her arms. The husband, now robbed of his entire family, is alone, and is under a probable mountain of real estate debt.