I’ve been a fan of Guillermo Del Toro for a long time and his films are usually well worth the time. In this case, the Pan’s Labyrinth director is a producer for director Juan Antonio Bayona’s gothic horror about an old orphanage that is being reborn under the care of an ex-resident. As a child, orphaned Laura lived in the big old house by the Spanish seaside and has fond memories of her time there. She was adopted and left the home. Now in her mid-30s, Laura returns to the dilapidated institution with her husband, Carlos, and their seven-year-old son, Simon, to reopen the orphanage for just a handful of special needs children.
But, naturally, there is something weird going on in the beautiful old house. Simon’s behavior begins to grow increasingly strange and Laura and Carlos start to think the boy is getting carried away with his imaginary friends. On the opening day of the new orphanage, Simon’s bizarre behavior is written off as a bid for attention until truly strange events occur and Simon disappears. The search for Simon leads Laura deep into her memories of the orphanage and she begins to uncover troubling things that occurred after her own adoption.
This is classy and atmospheric film. It’s true gothic horror, with the tension and pace masterfully managed throughout. The acting is top notch, with all the characters utterly convincing. The film addresses the connections between the living and the dead in interesting ways. There’s nothing especially original in the ideas here, but the delivery and way the characters interact with the strange events is excellent.
The real power of this film is the subtlety and understated exploration of the horror as it goes for true emotional engagement. There are occasional old school shocks and a few typical tension-building filmic techniques employed, but they’re handled with as much subtlety as the plot. The cinematography is very good throughout, with the camera making great use of the locations and the architecture of the orphanage.
All in all this is a genuinely creepy and visceral horror film, cleverly written, beautiful shot and well acted. Highly recommended.