Spain brings one more film into the fray of Horror Month 2009!
Screenplay By: Sergio G. Sánchez
Directed By: Juan Antonio Bayona
As much as I hate doing this, there will be spoilers ahead, so you have been warned.
My grandmother used to tell me that nothing is complete, even if you tie it up. She used that line of thinking about everything and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why the heck she was bombarding me with it. At some point in my life I began to realize her intent, and it was tied into her favorite past time. Grandma Bullock was, and still is, a literary junkie, she reads more than any person I have ever known. Her outlook on the world was formed through reading and she wanted me to do the same. Nothing is complete, even if you tie it up because you should never stop thinking. The world of fiction is massively interpretive, and the worst thing you can do is make a judgment call and refuse to allow the story to go anywhere else. That’s not to say that when the story is finished you can’t say, “this is what I think happened,” but that you shouldn’t tie yourself to an ending before the end has come about.
By this point I hope you have figured out what my little anecdote has to do with El Orfanato. The ending of El Orfanato is what ties it all together, without the open ended nature of the finale you would be left with a good but pedestrian ghost story. El Orfanato is similar to El Laberinto Del Fauno in that regard, but that is really the only similarity worth mentioning and I am not about to patronize El Orfanato by constantly comparing it to that film. The ending of El Orfanato is mysterious and it can be read two different ways. Similar to a bow on the top of a present, El Orfanato’s finale brings all of its pieces into one neat package. The goodies contained within the package can lead the viewer down either path, there is more than enough evidence for the ghosts to be real, but at the same time there is enough evidence that an accident occurred involving Simón while Laura died from an overdose.
I am a sucker for the open ended finale presented in El Orfanato. I love when a filmmaker trusts his audience enough to present two plausible paths and allow them to take either one with no comeuppance. No matter which path you take, I fall on the side of the ghosts being creations of Laura’s mind, the story is given adequate resolution. If one wants to stop at the simple resolutions provided that would still leave a very good movie. However, you can decide to look back and analyze where El Orfanato goes in its story and how it comes to either conclusion and what that means to all that came previous. If you do this, then you have plenty to chew on and should realize how great of a movie El Orfanato is.
I’m hesitant to label El Orfanato a horror film, because while there are horror elements present it’s much more of a psychological fantasy tale. Be that as it may, the label applied to El Orfanato doesn’t matter. There are moments of genuine suspense and for others I am sure there are moments that do scare. Juan Antonio Bayona uses most of the usual horror tricks to put his movie together, but he adds a wonderful visual eye and an amazingly keen ear for sound. Out of all the technical aspects in El Orfanato I was most impressed by the sound, Bayona understands the value of silence just as much as that of a loud crash. There is a scene early on when Laura goes outside to explore the shed, as she asks if anyone is there the sound cuts off completely. It’s a small thing but it brings that scene alive, and throughout El Orfanato the way sound is used keeps the film constantly alive.
The last ingredient necessary for El Orfanato’s success was a strong lead. Belén Rueda was that strong lead, she brought heart and depth to a role that could have ruined the film if it was played too large or broad. Rueda doesn’t yearn for sympathy, she plays Laura as a mother who is conflicted over the loss of her son and the sympathy naturally flows from there. She also has very expressive eyes and was able to enhance the suspenseful nature of most scenes with a simple eye dart left and right.
What I have loved most about this years Horror Month, don’t worry it’s not over yet, is the horror I have been watching is so different from what mainstream Hollywood horror has turned into. El Orfanato is another example of that difference, there is only one gory scene, and it is very tame, and the horror found in El Orfanato is of a suspenseful nature and not of the pop out variety. El Orfanato asks you to think and refuses to provide the answer, it gives all the evidence to the viewer and allows for individual interpretation to take over. Whether the ghosts are real or not, El Orfanato is a fine film and another sign of the wealth of quality film making being done in Spain. Horror Month 2009 continues it’s great run with yet another film that I highly recommend, but leave the burlap sack look alone, please.