Even this flinty-hearted reviewer shed a tear at the bittersweet end of Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 horror fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. By the conclusion of The Orphanage, however, I was crying like a baby. Either they’re putting something in the water, or the Mexican director is getting even better at his job.
The Pan’s and Hellboy auteur is credited only as executive producer of the Spanish-language Orphanage, which was helmed by first-time filmmaker J.A. Bayona. But del Toro’s fingerprints are all over the tightly scripted, lushly shot, emotionally charged haunted-house story. Rueda stars as a woman who returns to the orphanage where she grew up, planning to live there with her husband and adopted son and to care for ”special” children. But there are ominous hints that the building already has its quota of needy kids…ones whose principal challenge is being dead. What ensues involves horror of almost every stripe, as Rueda realizes that her family’s safety depends on discovering what happened to the orphanage’s deceased (albeit increasingly active) residents.
The extras include an extensive collection of posters and an even more generous gallery of stills highlighting makeup effects and set design; the numerous making-of docs are competent but not very memorable. At one point, Bayona says that del Toro ”gave us his advice without trying to walk over us.” Whoever deserves credit for the movie’s near-perfect mix of horror and heart, it is a formula that other genre filmmakers would do well to adopt. A-