Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by:Sergio G. Sanchez
Starring: Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla
Released: May 29, 2008
Grade: B+

The Spanish Film Festival recently wrapped up in Brisbane and one of the highlights from the program was The Orphanage.  It came with a strong reputation having won 7 Goya Awards (the Spanish equivalent of an Academy Award) including best original screenplay.  Now that the Festival is over, the film is getting a wider release in cinemas across Australia.

The title gives you a pretty good indication where this creepy thriller is set.  The building was once an orphanage but is now owned by Laura (Rueda) and her husband Carlos (Cayo).  Laura grew up there as a child and bought the home many years for sentimental reasons.  They have an adopted son named Simon (Princep) who is HIV positive.  They keep this information from him so that he can try to live a normal life.

Both Laura and Carlos have become concerned about Simon’s recent behaviour.  He has invisible friends who he talks to and plays strange games with.  It seems to be more than just a passing phase though.  He speaks of them with chilling clarity and is not at all concerned by the fact that his parents can’t see them.  It’s very spooky.

Since she bought the large house, Laura has dreamed of turning it into a home for disabled children.  She hosts a party to launch her idea which is attended by a number of interested people.  It’s all going well until Simon disappears.  Despite a full search of the home and the surrounding area, Simon cannot be found.

Months pass and there is still no trace of him.  Having exhausted all possible scenarios, Laura starts wondering if Simon’s disappearance is connected with his invisible friends.  Are these the crazy thoughts of a woman consumed by grief?  That’s all I’m going to tell you at this point.

The Orphanage is an intriguing movie that will slowly draw you in.  The suspense keeps building throughout.  You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next and how it will end.  I love films like this – they keep me on the edge of my seat.

The film’s marketing has highlighted that one of the producers of the film is Mexican born filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.  I can see why he was attracted to the project.  The dark, paranormal storyline reminded me of the acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth (which he directed in 2006).  Del Toro is one of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment and recently signed on to direct the two-film adaptation of J.R.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

If you’re looking for something a little different and you have an appreciation for foreign language films, then The Orphanage will be right up your alley.