El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
El Orfanato was the debut film of Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona and was released in 2007. The story deals with a mother looking to reopen the orphanage she called home during her childhood and create a place for disabled children as well as her family.
The script for the movie was actually written many years early by Sergio G. Sánchez, and was later brought to Bayona's attention in the year 2004. With the help of his friend and director Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan's Labyrinth), Bayona managed to find enough funding and time to be able to film the movie. El Orfanato was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, where it was met with a huge amount of praise and a 10 minute standing ovation.
A woman named Laura decides to go back to the decrepit orphanage where she spent her childhood with her husband, Carlos, and their adopted son, Simón. Laura wants to reopen the orphanage and make it a home for disabled children. While at the house, Simón makes friends with a boy called Tomás, who according to Simón wears a mask made from sack cloth; however Laura believes that Tomás is merely an imaginary friend.
Later, a social worker named Benigna visits the house, telling Laura that she is in possession of Simón's adoption file which says that the boy is HIV positive. Angry at the intrusion into her life, Laura sends Benigna away, only to find her skulking around the coal shed later that night.
Laura and Simón then play a game in which the aim is to search for a series of hidden possessions. The final object that Laura finds is the adoption file of her son. Simón says that his new friends told him that Laura wasn't his mother, and that he is going to die. The pair has a big argument later at a party at the orphanage, leading Simón to hide from her. It is then that Laura is confronted by a boy wearing a sack cloth mask with the name 'Tomás' embroidered on his shirt. The boy traps her in the bathroom, and when she finally manages to escape, she realizes that Simón has gone missing.
The rest of El Orfanato deals with Laura and Carlos searching for their son, in which a number of strange and scary twists and turns ensue, that help you to understand the background of all the characters, and what happened to Simón. Fear not, all will be explained!
Awards and Recognition
El Orfanato was received very well by critics who found the lack of cliché tactics to scare the audience refreshing, as it focused instead on an acute feeling of suspense that kept you second guessing yourself and wondering what is around the corner. The simplicity of the horror in the film is what made it so successful. There are many elements of Guillermo del Toro's style in this film, even though he was just the producer, however Bayona also managed to put his own stamp on the movie which keeps it fresh.
By the far most common praise for the film however, was for the acting of the main character Laura, played by Belén Rueda. It is often said that she makes the film, especially with her large eyes that make the tense, suspenseful moments all the more scary. You really have to sympathize with her character as she conveys the great sadness and fear that she feels throughout the film. In order to prepare for her role in the movie, Belén was told to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Innocents, as Bayona wanted to revive the horror movies of the 1970s. Rueda's performance, along with the excellent musical score, filming technique and script, all of which fit together perfectly, make El Orfanato an instant classic.
In Spain, the film became the biggest box office hit of 2007, even beating films like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Shrek the Third. El Orfanato was nominated for 14 Goya awards, and eventually won 7 of them, including Best Screenplay, Best Special Effects and Best New Director. The film was also selected to represent Spain at the Academy Awards in 2007, but it was not nominated for Best Foreign Film.