Friday, January 11, 2008

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)

El Orfanato was on the agenda this evening.

I didn't expect much out of this film. Yes, yes, I know, Guillermo Del Toro produced it, but it's a horror picture. 9 times out of 10 those suck.


(Shut up, Steve, they do, too.)

But this film pleasantly surprised me. So much so, in fact, that I think it should be a rule that only foreign directors are allowed to direct horror pictures. This film plays out in Spanish and could take place literally anywhere.

The World Juan Antonio Bayona creates in the film is rich and deep and never feels fake. There are a few of the hallmarks of a first time director here (like the second, superfluous ending) but overall the film works completely. So completely that it actually startled me in a few moments and got me feeling genuinely creeped out with other moments. And I almost felt like crying a couple of times, too.

El Orfanato feels like an early Guillermo del Toro film, perhaps if he made a Spanish-language film between Chronos and The Devils Backbone. It's solid. But it also has a taste of a different fairy-tale world and seems to hearken to Peter Pan in a much more overt way than Pan's Labyrinth hearkened to Alice in Wonderland. (I was also stricken by a few similarities between this and the horrible Dark Water. The director of that picture could take lessons from Bayona, that movie blew.)

The marketing campaign (like the poster) made it look like it would be a shitty knock-off of a shitty movie like Saw, but it handled all of the creepy elements (including Tomas, the kid on the poster) very, very well. Also, Geraldine Chaplin's cameo... That was one of the creepiest things I've seen on film in a long time that didn't make me laugh.

Overall, this is a top-shelf supernatural thriller and Guillermo del Toro has every right to be proud of it. I would tell you all to go see it.

And I'm serious. American directors and American studios should never make another horror film again. We should just relegate that job to Guillermo del Toro and let him produce all of them.


Steven said...

Dawn of the Dead, Alien(s), Carrie, The Devil's Rejects, The Exorcist, Halloween, Saw, Texas Chainsaw Masacre, Psycho, etc, etc.

Most of the top Horror classics are American.

But, films like this aren't "scary" right? I mean "Devil's Backbone" was "creepy", but not "scary".

Steven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

Saw is shit, not a classic. And the rest were made before the 90s.

In this day and age, horror films from American directors suck.

Matthew said...

Creepy/scary - the difference is in the mind of the viewer. What some people find scary others find merely creepy. The closest thing I can find to the definition of a 'scary' movie, is one that lingers in the late hours of the night. A movie that continues to weigh on your subconscious at times of solitude is one that I would consider calling 'scary', and I believe that El Orfanato fits this description.

The problem with such films as Dawn of the Dead, Alien, and Saw (to cite some given examples) is that personally I find films like that more 'jumpy' than scary. They provide a short shock, maybe, but I'm hardly going to be traumatised by it.

I don't necessarily believe all American horror is rubbish, there's just a slew of crap to wade though as we are being immersed by a steady stream of the stuff.

Back to my original point - a 'scary' film is really all down to perception.

Also, I should probably add that I am slightly biased due to me almost worshiping anything that has had Del Torro involved in the cinematic process.