Even though I had bought a Blu-Ray copy of the 2007 “gothic supernatural horror” film, The Orphanage, I almost didn’t watch it. A co-production between Spain and Mexico, El orfanato is presented entirely in Spanish, with English sub-titles. Snob that I am, I’ve always found sub-titles distracting. Still, I gave it a chance, and five minutes in, I was hooked. Not only by the story, but by the remarkable performance of its star, Belén Rueda.


With that tagline I offer a brief overview, rather than a synopsis, of this multi-layered film, around the first twenty minutes. At an orphanage in Spain (in a big, creepy manor house), a happy young girl named Laura plays with the half dozen or so children who also reside there. She is actually sad to leave when a family adopts her.

Thirty years later, an adult Laura (Rueda) and her husband, a doctor named Carlos, have adopted a boy named Simón. Now seven, Simón does not know he was adopted, nor that he was born HIV positive. His parents dote on him, especially Laura.

Having fond memories of her childhood in the now deserted orphanage, Laura moves in with her family and sets a goal of taking on a limited number of disabled children. Simón seems to enjoy living there with his “invisible friends.” One of those friends, a boy named Tomás, appears to him in a sea cave along the nearby coast—accessible at low tide—and also in the house. Simón draws pictures of Tomás, showing him wearing a creepy sack mask.

Is that a ghost behind the mask?


A woman named Benigna, saying that she is a social worker, shows up at the door, inquiring about Simón’s health. She gives Laura a file showing that Simón was adopted, and that he is slowly dying. Laura tells the woman to leave. Later that evening she catches Benigna snooping around the coal shed. The woman runs away, not to be seen again…for a while.

Simón finds the file and is pissed at his mother for keeping his history to herself. He says that Tomás already told him about all of it. A rift is opened up, and it grows worse at a party for the children that will be living at the old orphanage, and their parents. Laura becomes frustrated with the belligerent Simón, who insists she come and see where Tomás lives, and she slaps him. Simón runs off.

Later, regretting her action, Laura looks for her son, but he is nowhere to be found. That same night Laura and Carlos hear pounding from somewhere in the house, but they cannot locate the source. The police believe that this mysterious Benigna may have abducted Simón.

The old orphanage is housed in a rather creepy building.

Flash forward six months. Simón is still missing, and Laura is a total basket case. She even hires a medium, believing that her son is somehow still in the house. What the medium discovers is that the old orphanage contains many secrets…

Well, as I said before, this is a multi-layered story, and anything else I mention from here on would be TMI. I usually can watch a horror movie in the afternoon and forget about it by the time I go to bed. But I could not stop thinking about The Orphanage for days after viewing it. The film, an early effort of director of J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), won multiple awards and was nominated for quite a few more. Its Rotten Tomatoes approval rating was 87%. No jump scares, no horror tropes in this one. It truly was horror done right.

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