Heeding producer Guillermo del Toro’s maxim that all the best ghost stories possess an element of melancholy, it offers an emotionally overwrought, disturbingly adult view of childhood fears.
Together with her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and adopted seven-year-old son Simón (Roger Príncep), Laura (Rueda) is celebrating the opening of their new home for mentally and physically handicapped children.
But when Simón vanishes into thin air, stories he has told about his ‘imaginary friends’ start to chime with troubling recollections from Laura’s own childhood – as an orphan raised in this very same house. Do these disturbing, deeply buried memories hold clues to Simón’s mysterious disappearance, or are they merely a symptom of Laura’s regressive slide into an infantile state? Drawing upon children’s games and the Wendy/Lost Boys thread of ‘Peter Pan’, scriptwriter Sergio G Sánchez explores the mental disintegration of a woman possessed and overwhelmed by her child’s disappearance.
Much influenced by Roman Polanski, Bayona displays a forensic eye for the creepy, unsettling atmosphere that wreathes itself around the domestic settings and everyday objects. With its elegant, atmospheric long takes and expressionistic use of colour, ‘The Orphanage’ draws us inexorably into its haunted physical and mental spaces. The seance conducted by Geraldine Chaplin’s bird-like psychic, Aurora, is a bravura set piece charged with terror and distressing emotion, the finale subtle but heart-breaking.