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"The Orphanage"

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez.

Starring Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo and Roger Príncep.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  1/6/08


After I watched "The Orphanage" yesterday afternoon, I saw the trailer for this film (for the first time; somehow, I had only heard about this through buzz) during an NFL game.  One critic proudly proclaimed that "The Orphanage" was this year's "Pan's Labyrinth."  I chuckled, for a couple of different reasons:

a) "Pan's Labyrinth" was really, really good.  "The Orphanage" wasn't.
b) "The Orphanage" was produced by Guillermo del Toro, who actually directed "Pan's Labyrinth."  So, I guess in many ways, "The Orphanage" really IS this year's "Pan's Labyrinth."

Here's what you should know about "The Orphanage."  In some ways, it is similar to a film that del Toro did a few years ago called "The Devil's Backbone."  (That film is worth seeing.)  Laura (Belén Rueda) is the 37-year-old female guardian of an orphan named Simon (Roger Príncep); along with Laura's husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo), the family lives in a former orphanage that Laura was raised at, a hulking monstrosity of a house where Laura currently works with handicapped children.  Simon has a habit of playing with imaginary friends, so when Simon's newest creation (he calls him "Tomás") wants to play treasure hunt with him, Laura gamely plays along.  However, after a brief spat on the morning of a party being held at the house for Laura's current charges, Simon goes missing, and then Laura starts to hear strange noises coming from the house and windows start closing randomly and what looks like a fucking poltergeist moves in, even though no one but Laura can see or hear anything wrong.  Spookiness ensues.

Save for a very violent scene in the middle of the film (which earned the film its R rating here in the US), this is a PG-13 "horror" film that has been done just as well--and by that, I mean, poorly--by countless other filmmakers here already.  Rueda does her best to emit fear from every available orifice, but ultimately, "The Orphanage" doesn't do anything particularly well, outside of setting the mood.  I'm still not sure why an American indie theater chain such as Landmark would decide that "The Orphanage" is worth adding to the lineup; it simply wasn't that good!!

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09