This is another Guillermo del Toro helmed flick. The Orphanage featured in numerous films dubbed “The Scariest Horror Films of the 21st Century”. I remain unconvinced. Where this is a ghost story, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie. It’s a drama that happens to have ghosts in it.
Del Toro seems to enjoy taking ghosts from a more sympathetic perspective. Take a malevolent spirit, find out what makes it tick, pin down its tragic backstory, and bring it peace once and for all. But of course, once you understand a ghost, it loses its fear factor. This is the biggest downfall of The Orphanage from early on.
The film revolves around a woman who returns to the orphanage she grew up in, intent on transforming it into a center for special needs children. But some of the original orphans never left…
What drew me into this film in the first place was the promise of a creepy child wearing a potato sack scarecrow mask. I anticipated many tense moments of such an apparition to terrify me. Instead, there’s maybe one glimpse in the beginning, and few later on. My inability to let go of my need for a scary ghost story hindered my ability to enjoy the story for what it was. Because these kids are just kids, and they just want to be loved and understood. The underlying theme of the film, after all, is mother’s love.
Which is pretty damnably cheesy for a horror film…
Maybe if it would be less so if the mother’s frantic racing out of house, down into the water, out into a random cave near the beginning while searching for her missing son weren’t so overly dramatic. He’s completely disappeared from her sight through the entire afternoon and early evening, and her first thought is not to search the house, but to run out toward the cave they briefly explored earlier that day? Sure. The entire set up for the later pay off is just questionable at best and I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief.
The final reveal does, however, take a new angle in preying on every parent’s fear of their child dying a gruesome death from doing normal kid things. That kind of heartbreak and heartache may play on the heartstrings of any parent of a young child, thus entertaining a completely different type of horror: that complete inability to protect the person you love.
I doubt I would have chosen to watch this film if it weren’t sold to me as a horror movie, but I suspect I may have appreciated it if I had watched it in a completely different context. In a way, it feels like a more intelligently written Lifetime movie than anything else. Maybe the ending would make me think more if I didn’t go into it with such particular expectations. And maybe I’m not its target audience, but I’m just not getting what I need out of it.
For some reason, horror movies with an ominously uplifting final scene make me more uncomfortable than a straight up bloodbath tragedy. I come to expect a gruesome end. I want every character to be dead, and trauma abound. I just don’t quite buy the “everyone’s dead, but they’re all together and happy” ending. It feels like cheating somehow. Like somehow there’s an unwritten rule where horror movies aren’t allowed to have their own screwed up equivalent of a happily ever after. It makes me wonder what a blow your mind stunningly crafted horror film with a happy ending would look like.
Whatever it is, it’s not this.
Final Twist: 6/10
Overall Rating: 6/10