Throwback Thursday: The Orphanage (2007)


It’s now October, and whilst mince pies and advent calendars have already taken residence on our supermarket shelves, it’s only a few weeks until Halloween. It’s with this in mind that I have decided that over the next month, my Throwback Thursday column will be dedicated to the horror genre; or more specifically, the ghost story.

I’ve chosen to focus on ghost stories because done correctly, they go further than their generic realm and be joyful as well as sad, romantic as well as terrifying. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better encapsulation of this than the 2007 Spanish spook-fest, The Orphanage.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, it tells the story of Laura who buys her childhood orphanage with her husband and adopted son, Simón. A small boy with an apparently big imagination, one day he meets a new invisible friend in a cave on a nearby beach. Inviting him home to play, things begin to take a sinister turn and Simón soon goes missing.

Diagnosed with HIV since birth, the clock is ticking for Laura to find her son. Is his disappearance linked to his birth parents or of a more supernatural nature?

Well, that would be telling wouldn’t it? Like all great mysteries, The Orphanage leads us down different roads that seem to head in opposite directions, yet end up connecting at the end. You may think you have the ending sussed out but it will still surprise you on a level you didn’t think possible.

Once Simón disappears the narrative deals with bigger ideas than ghosts, and becomes a story about obsession and how we deal with grief. In the scene where Laura goes to group therapy to share her paranormal experiences, the therapist asks the group who else has seen the ghost of a loved one and everybody raises their hands, which is strangely comforting and heartbreaking at the same time.

In fact, the film itself can be described as strangely comforting and heartbreaking at the same time, because for all of its intrigue and supernatural chills, its exploration of death is one of the best on-screen examples I can think of. There’s a great use of light throughout the film which gives the portrayal of the afterlife a warmth that makes the morbid seem beautiful.

As well as great depth, it offers plenty of scares with some cleverly constructed set ups; the usual creaks and bangs as well as the sack-wearing ghost Tomás. Like other works from Del Toro, it’s a gothic fairytale that will scare you, shock you, move you and haunt you long after the film has finished.

Trivia Tidbit: Although uncredited, Guillermo del Toro plays the doctor at the Emergency Ward who tends to Laura after she injures her leg.

Next Week: The Innocents (1961)

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