Produced by Guillermo del Toro, this ghost story set in Spain follows a mother as she searches for her son, unraveling the dark secrets of the orphanage of her youth in the process.
In the picture from when Laura was at the orphanage she names the children and calls one of them "Guillermo," which is most likely a nod to well-known director Guillermo del Torro who was a producer of the film.
Laura has just purchased the orphanage she grew up in and is hoping to renovate it and turn it into a home for children with mental handicaps. She's moved there with her husband Carlos and adopted don, Simon, and hopes that the fresh air will do Simon good (he, too, has been adopted, and unfortunately contracted AIDS from his real mother). Not long after arriving, though, Simon begins to act strange. He says that he's making 'new friends', though his parents choose to let this stay as something small-he's already been making imaginary friends before. He says his new ones demand that he play a game with them, and at the end of it, Simon finds the papers about his disease and the fact he's adopted.
Later that evening, Laura receives a visit from Benigna. Benigna heard what she's doing and expresses desire to help out. She unsettles Laura, though, and Laura kicks her out. That night, Laura hears something in the garden and goes to investigate. Curiously, it's Benigna again, scrounging around inside the workshed. She gives no excuse for her presence; she merely scampers away.
A few days later, they go to the beach, and Simon is quick to run in and explore a nearby cave as Laura stands outside and collects shells. We see him running through the cave, and then stop suddenly, but we don't know what he's seen. When Laura checks on him, though, he's find, and has even made a new friend there! He leaves a trail of shells for the new friend to follow them home with.
On the day of the orphanage's grand reopening, Simon is still being more of a handful
than he'd ever been before. He keeps telling his mother to go see "Tomas' secret room!" and when she doesn't listen, he throws a tantrum and she slaps him to get him quiet. He runs away and disappears. At the opening party, which is a masquerade sort of deal, finds Laura searching frantically for Simon so that she can apologize. She falls quickly into hysterics, ripping the masks off of all the kids (who, remember, are mentally handicapped) and screaming wildly for her son. She runs inside, checking closets and everything in between, and, finally, sees a boy in what looks like a scarecrow mask standing there, and she assumes it to be Simon. The child attacks her, though, rips her hair, crushes one of her hands, and locks her in a bathroom before running away.
Obviously, the orphanage did not reopen for new children.
Simon, though, is still missing. The couple alert the authorities and Carlos convinces Laura to just try and sleep. She tries to obey, but she's just too worried, which is why it was her that first heard the thumping sounds in the wall. Frightened but curious, she gets up and walks along the wall, following the source of the sound. A loud snap and a thud is heard. She screams.
Also there's totally this mad-hot psychic.
Months go by. Simon still hasn't been found. Laura continues to figure out what happened and the mystery of the orphanage while the police slowly draw to the conclusion Simon is lost for good. No matter what truth she uncovers, though, all she wants is her son back.
(Spoilers and later parts of the movie are below this warning. You have been warned) It was suggested shortly after Simon disappeared that it was something that Benigna did. Upon first showing up, she showed a very special interest in him, which is why she was thrown out in the first place. Later, Carlos and Laura see Benigna pushing a stroller, and try to catch her-though she is unfortunately hit by a speeding ambulance and dies immediately, her face split open. The carriage, however, is empty, save for a doll wearing the mask Simon had on during the party. Police take this clue and rip Benigna's house apart, finding evidence Benigna used to work there. She had a son, Tomas, who had to wear a mask and be isolated because he had a physical deformity. The children knew about this, though, and played a trick on him-they invited him out to a cave at the beach, stole his mask and teased him into coming out. He didn't. The tide came in and he drowned.
Searching the orphanage further, Laura finds something similar to the game that Simon had played with her earlier- one of her possessions is gone, and it's been replaced with something else. As she plays along with the game the ghost children (as Laura is determined they exist) have lined up for her, resulting in a doorknob. She then goes to the shed and walks along the furnace, finding one that has been locked. Using an axe, she breaks the lock and discovers inside a bunch of bags. Hauling them out, one ruptures and pours ash everywhere. Ash and bone-the children from the orphanage.
Laura then decides to call in a psychic, Aurora, who immediately sees ghost children, coming to her, looking frightened and saying something about poison. She tells Laura she is close to death, and as such, she can see the dead (which is why Aurora can see the dead as well). Carlos leaves the next day, stating that this is too much for him to handle, but Laura stays behind and finds a collection of dolls that belonged to the children-one for each of them. She then finds a film reel that shows it was Benigna who killed them, in an act of revenge for her son Tomas. She then fled the orphanage and was never charged.
Laura decides her best chance at finding Simon is to appeal to the ghosts directly, and as such, dresses the orphanage to the way it used to be when she was younger. She prepares dinner for them and puts the dolls in their respective beds, but nothing happens. Perhaps playing would work, she decided, and begins to play a game similar to Red Light, Green Light. The first few times, nothing happens, until finally she sees the shape of a child. Again. More children appear, getting closer as she continues playing. Finally, she is tapped by one of them, and according to the rules of the game, she has to tag the next one as it. Instead, the children lead her to a closet, lock her in, and she finds a second door-a door that the doorknob she found earlier fits in. Going through, she sees some stairs with a broken railing, a huddled mass on the floor and a bunch of drawings that Tomas did-this is Tomas secret room, as Simon had tried to show her. She ignores what's on the floor and goes to the bed, where she's certain Simon will be, and sure enough, when she prods the blanket he is under, he looks up at her and smiles groggily. Happily, she bundles him up and walks away with him, until reaching the spot under the broken railing. We then see what's really going on-she's carrying the dead body of her son, gaunt from decay and possibly starving to death. A flashback is shown of her searching a closet for Simon during the party, and a bunch of things fall on her, which she moves over where we now know the door to be. It then shows the stairs, and the sounds she heard the night Simon went missing replay, ending in the broken railing.
Unable to take her grief, Laura starts wishing for anything, anything she could give to have Simon back to life. After a few minutes of this, the room brightens, and Simon peeks his head out and tells her not to be so sad. Overjoyed, she returns to the main house to find the children all excited. "It's Laura! She returned! Oh, please stay and take care of us, Laura!" they exclaim. Laura thinks about it, and finally says yes.
The scene cuts to Carlos at the grave of Simon and Laura. After a final scene where he walks through the abandoned orphanage once more, the credits roll.
The Orphanage is very often billed as a horror movie, straight up. However, due to the fact that there's very little in the way of scares in the film, it's better to classify this as a sort of mystery rather than anything else. There is a definite supernatural element, though, especially to the later half of the film. The reason this is a better example of genre is that the movie is mostly just Laura looking for her son and finding out things that are rather shocking, secrets that were somehow hidden from the world. There are definitely spots where it's scary, but they're few and far between; the movie mostly plays on 'unnerving'.
Drafts of this film have been floating around since 1996, and was written by Sergio G. Sanchez. He wanted to direct, but gave it to Juan Antonio Bayona later. Bayona considered the film to be more of a fantasy than anything, and he accepted because of this. He rewrote and cut parts of the script, which resulted in a much larger budget, aided by a production nod by director Guillermo del Toro (the directors knew each other before, and del Toro chose to produce as soon as he heard about it).
Principal filming began in May 5, 2006 in Llanes, Asturias. It was chosen because it had all of the natural features necessary, and the mansion that stood in the spot was perfect for the orphanage. Still, large parts of the orphanage were built on soundstages simply because it was hard to film on location. In fact, 80% of the film was finished on soundstages in Barcelona.
Release and Awards
The Orphanage had a big opening. The film debuted at he Sitges Film Festival, leading off the show, and hit theaters October 11, 2007. On 350 screens in Spain, the film made $8.4 million in 4 days, making it he second most successful Spanish movie released. It hit wide release in America on January 11, 2008, and took home $11 million from Mexico, where it opened January 25. The movie was nominated for 14 of Spain's 'Goya Awards', including Best Director, Best New Screenplay, Best Special Effects and, the coup de grace, best hair. It was nominated by Spain for their best foreign film for the Oscars, but the movie was never nominated.
The movie was released in America on DVD on April 22, 2008.
New Line has picked up the option to remake The Orphanage for 2011. Del Toro is still set to produce, but with more of an American twist to it, and from the company remaking so many critically-pounded horror movies, a lot of outcry is being heard from fans. It's likely that critical praise for its tension, deliberate pace, characterizations and touching story won't transfer over to the second, though the first was praised for all of those things. It is set to be directed by Mark Pellington.