On Friday, PJ and I went out with friends to see The Orphanage, a Spanish film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sánchez. Here’s the trailer:

The film stars Belén Rueda as Laura, a woman who buys her childhood home, an orphanage, and brings her husband and son to live there. She begins the process of restoring the old house with the hopes of taking in a small number of special needs children. We soon learn that her adopted son, who is HIV positive, plays with imaginary friends, but these fantasy games quickly become disturbing as unexplainable events begin to happen. A terrifying threat to her family leads Laura on a quest to understand the home’s mysteries, which involve a past of horrifying secrets that erupt into the present. (I’m trying not to give anything away while still indicating how scary the movie is!)

Let me start off by saying that I HATE scary movies. I don’t like to be terrorized, which is how suspenseful films affect me. Since The Orphanage is obviously a suspenseful thriller, I went into it ready to dislike it. That impulse was totally wrong — I loved this movie!

Don’t get me wrong — The Orphanage is definitely scary. In fact, there was at least one moment that I audibly gasped during the film (but no one heard me because the movie’s soundtrack was loud too at that point) and I frequently had to put my hands over my eyes. (A friend-of-a-friend who was with us also gasped out loud once, but everyone heard his — it was great; he vocalized what we were all feeling!)

Despite — or perhaps because of — its scariness, this film is totally entertaining. Its twists and turns were completely surprising, and just when you thought you knew where it was going it goes someplace else. It’s also a film that doesn’t give you a definite stance on whether the events that take place are completely paranormal or just part of Laura’s imagination or some combination of the two.

Rueda is wonderful as Laura. The film sinks or swims based on our vision of her character. Is she crazy, sympathetic, admirable, and/or realistic? We see the events of the film through her eyes, so to speak, and so our reading of her shapes our reading of those events.

I love that Geraldine Chaplin has a small role as a parapsychologist who may or may not be the real thing. Again, the film plays with us, letting us decide if she’s genuine or a charlatan. Regardless, Chaplin is great in her small role. I also thought Roger Príncep‘s performance as Laura’s son, Simón, was really good. I think his character needs to be endearing for the film to work, and he makes us like his character even though we’re all creeped out by him.

Afterwards, we all went out for a drink to discuss the movie; it is definitely the kind of film that makes you want to talk about it and figure it all out. I’m not sure we figured it all out, but we all enjoyed it. I definitely recommend it!

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