The Red Right Hand
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EL ORFANATO
(The Orphanage)
A Tale Of Love. A Story Of Horror

Director
Juan Antonio Bayona

Starring
Belen Rueda
Fernando Cayo
Roger Princep
Mabel Rivera

In typical Spanish pace, this horror film is one for audiences with a heightened sense of patience. We open on a seaside orphanage where a group of about six children are innocently playing. Little do they know, Laura [Rueda], has been selected for adoption and will leave their company soon. Skip forward thirty years and we learn that Laura has returned with her own family (husband, Carlos [Cayo] and adopted son, Simon [Princep]) to reopen the orphanage as a care home for children with special needs. As a lonely young boy, Simon creates imaginary friends to play with but goes missing one day, after rowing with his mother. As time goes by, Laura becomes more and more convinced that the ghost of a boy named Tomas, who died thirty years ago, has taken Simon and she must follow the clues to get him back.

In classic ghost-story fashion, this film is all about suspense and creating a generally unsettling atmosphere more than OH MY GOD LOOK AT IT'S FUCKING SCARY FACE moments; similarly, the plot reveals its secrets slowly rather than a nasty, gore-spattered finale. The air of tension works beautifully but so much of the credibility and enjoyment of this film hinge on the anchor performance of Belen Rueda, who is extraordinarily believable in a story that could have easily been hammed up to screaming 'Where's my son?' No doubt we'll have to endure an American remake soon enough which will portray exactly that. A large aspect to my savouring of this film was due, in part, to its close links to Silent Hill. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it's a series of horror-survival games that came out nearly a decade ago but I'm still quietly obsessed with the mythos. One of the key aspects to the first game's plot was a father desperately searching a town for his daughter as everything fell apart around him. The other great influential similarity is 2001's The Others, which also thrived on atmospheric uneasiness and a mother's torment.

There are, however, a few negative aspects that considerably bring the film down. Unfortunately, the secondary characters are never greatly explored and as such simply feel like faces that drift on and off the screen with little impact. In addition to this we have the large leaps in time, ranging from weeks to months at a time. Itís never exactly stated how much time has passed between cuts, other than pieces of conversations stating, "He's been missing for a week/six months/nine months." The film is also populated with a large amount of strange fades that further reduce the pace and leave the film feeling a little stuttered; that and it suddenly became an episode of bloody Most Haunted. By the end of the film, I was fairly impressed and my initial reaction was edging toward 6/10 but as I spent more time dwelling on the film and allowed it to sink in, I realised that it is actually an exceptionally well-executed film that is only let down by a few directorial choices; other than that it's well worth a watch.

Release Date:
21st March 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
The final reveal was, for me at least, a big pay off that I greatly enjoyed but to highlight that would spoil the film far too much so let's focus on another point. During Laura's final attempts to contact the dead, she plays a game she used to enjoy with her friends. The player is required to stand, facing a wall and call out, "One, two, three, knock on the wall" before turning around to see if any of her friends creeping up on her are moving. Once she turns back to count, they move, then freeze when her gaze returns. It's a simple children's game but the slow-panning continuous shot used here is extremely effective and although not scary, creates an immense sense of intensity. Exceptional work from Bayona's first feature film.
Oh, and another point: there's a point in the plot where Tomas traps Laura's finger in a doorway, causing her middle finger to become sliced and bloody. When I got home I was cutting tomatoes and sliced right through my finger. Coincidence? Well, obviously, but I just wanted to attach a nasty picture of my finger - does no one appreciate how difficult it is to type a review with a lacerated finger?

Notable Characters:
Creepy Tomas the sack-wearing, door-slamming, whistle-blowing, ghost boy! I know I should be awarding the best character honours to Belen Rueda but the kid was creepy and personified an element most important to the film; namely, were there really any ghosts or was it all just in Laura's head?

Highlighted Quote:
"You want me to play with you? Alright, I'll play for a little while but then you tell me where Simon is. Agreed?"

In A Few Words:
"Not greatly original but an extremely rewarding and incredibly tense horror-chiller"

Total Score:
7/10


Matthew Stogdon