Now that Guillermo del Toro has made everybody and their grandmama fall in love with "Pan's Labyrinth" -- proving that Spanish-speaking filmmakers are capable of rattling you to your core -- he's bringing other like-minded filmmakers over to these parts.
First up is music-video director Juan Antonio Bayona, who gives us "El Orfanato" (for which del Toro serves as one of the producers), which translates into English as "The Orphanage." As you've probably guessed by the title, it involves children. So you know none of this is gonna turn out well.
"Orphanage" (Spain's official submission for this year's best foreign language Oscar, by the way) has Belen Rueda ("The Sea Inside") as a woman who returns with her husband (Fernando Cayo) and their adopted, HIV-positive son (Roger Princep) to the orphanage she lived in as a child to reopen it. The young boy, who has a knack for creating imaginary friends, immediately starts a bond with some kiddies at the home. Little does the woman know that her son's new friends were the fellow orphans who mysteriously died after she left.
Of course, spooky, nerve-shaking stuff happens -- most notably, her son's disappearance. This sends her into a maddening search that has her doing everything, including employing the services of a medium (Geraldine Chaplin) to investigate the rumblings she hears all around the home.
You can tell Bayona (along with screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez) is very much a disciple of del Toro and his work, as "Orphanage" owes a lot to del Toro's 2001 movie "The Devil's Backbone," also a ghost story set in an orphanage. Some might say you're better off just renting a copy of "Backbone" since that's the superior film. (However, "Backbone" doesn't have the ravishing Rueda, who, at the age of 42, is stunning enough to make 20-year-old chicks hate her guts.) Nevertheless, with Bayona showing himself as a perceptive director his first time out, "The Orphanage" is still a sophisticated, suspenseful tale that gets sadder and, ultimately and surprisingly, more touching as the final minutes unspool. It's one of those rare horror picture shows that actually throws in a bit of pathos and raw emotion into the proceedings. (Crazy, I know -- but it works!)
Besides, don't you think it's a downright godsend that there's finally a scary movie out there that doesn't have anything to do with anyone getting tied up, tortured and carved up like a turducken for about an hour and a half? All I gotta say to del Toro is, if you has any more friends who are capable of creating more films like this, then bring 'em over here!