Guillermo Del Toro may only be listed as producer for this award-winning Spanish chiller (directed by newcomer Juan Antonio Bayona), but the crisp, elegant visuals and poignant supernatural themes have his magical fingerprints all over. This would be a worthy addition to his own canon, had he been at the helm, and that’s high praise.
The set-up may sound familiar – spooky old house with sinister past, kids seeing dead people, freaky sack masks and so on. But far from a workaday ‘things that go bump’ exercise, this is horror with heart. Like Nic Roeg’s grief-stricken ’70s creep-out Don’t Look Now or indeed Cronos – Del Toro’s 1993 tale of love, faith and blood-sucking – The Orphanage is as sadly moving as it is frightening, and builds to a heart-rending emotional climax.
That said, when things do get jumpy, make sure you’ve got a spare pair of underpants handy – it’s skidmarks central. Through masterful timing and superb sound design (silence is so much scarier than noise), Bayona has wrung the maximum level of tension out of some time-honoured techniques. And by keeping the amount of distracting CGI under careful control, everything feels so much more tangible and terrifying.
Oddly, it’s been reported in some places that Del Toro will produce an English language remake of this too – but that would be a pointless endeavour. The Orphanage is gracefully shot, perfectly paced, wonderfully acted and scary as hell – a magnificent directorial debut. Can’t they just leave it be?