"A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend."
There's only one good reason to watch "El Orfanato" and that's Belén Rueda. Not only does she pretty much carry the entire film on her own, but she's certainly well up there in the MILF category as well. Although she does suffer from looking about ten years older in some of the more harrowing scenes, I couldn't take my eyes off her. She gave the best performance of anyone in any movie that I've seen for a long time.
Apart from that, it's all yet another ghost story mixed with far too much fantasy to make it wholly satisfying. There are huge similarities to "Poltergeist" and "The Innocents", and it almost has the same look about it as "House of Voices" and "The Others". At least it doesn't suffer from the horrible overly orange hue of most Spanish films, and I'm sure there are some people who will even find it beautiful to look at. I did.
I suppose this is really more of a supernatural thriller that focuses on the effects of bereavement than it is a horror movie. There are a couple of scenes which are a bit eerie and even some nasty looking make-up effects, but there's nothing all that frightening here other than having to read subtitles.
Back in 2005, Sean Bean starred in a very similar story called "The Dark". Whereas "The Dark" was stuffed to the gills with bogus and annoying Celtic fairytales, "El Orfanato" overuses the story of "Peter Pan" as a motif. The ending is almost as bad as "Pan's Labyrinth" but lacks the emotional impact. It also sends out a very mixed message to Catholics about suicide which is surprising for such a very Spanish film.
It's a 5 out of 10, and all those points go to Belén Rueda. I will certainly be watching any other films she stars in now.