Plot: What’s it about?
As this film’s effectiveness hinges upon its plot twists and suspense, I’m not going to go too deep into the specifics of the storyline here. What I do want to write about is my reaction to the film. After reading several glowing reviews of this movie, I was anxious to have the opportunity to see it for myself. Alas, as with most things these days, I found myself disagreeing with the majority with “The Orphanage”. This is the kind of film that simply does nothing for me anymore. I say anymore because, as chance would have it, I used to be a die-hard fan of the horror genre. Even modern horror that many discounted. I thought a few years back that we were seeing a resurgence of the truly great horror films of the 1970’s, when filmmakers were bound by far fewer restrictions and really pushed our comfort evel to a maddening degree. Modern horror simply fails to intrigue me on any level now. While the original intensions may have been precisely as I perceived them to be, what we’re seeing today is a resurgence not of the 1970’s, but of the last few years. And that’s a real shame. Because I love horror in its purest form, but films today have simply failed to recapture that for me. I’m not sure why precisely his is, but I’m going to attempt to dissect the problem here in my review of J.A. Bayona’s inaugural picture.
It’s not that “The Orphanage” is a bad movie – or even a badly-made one. Quite the contrary. In fact, if there’s one area of this film that I cannot say anything negative about, it’s the craft that has quite obviously gone into making it. The cinematography in particular is extremely striking right from the very beginning. The compositions are composed so beautifully that it forms a stark contrast to the ghostly happenings onscreen, and the intense clash of those two moods only serves to heighten the tension intended by the filmmakers. And there are some tense moments to be sure. One scene in particular features a repeating camera movement from left to right, revealing more with every pan. And I certainly applaud the emphasis here on mood over torture porn or needless, ridiculously over-the-top levels of blood and gore. Sadly, for me, the tension ultimately leads nowhere substantial, and the ending of the film left me feeling more cheated than cathartic or moved in any meaningful way. Many of the featurettes, which I’ll touch on in a moment, discuss how this film was always intended to be a moving experience, but the story elements all seemed to be a bit too contrived to take all at once. I felt like I’d been led to believe for an hour and a half that what I was watching was a horror film, but ultimately, that’s not what I took from it at all, and I can only imagine that a second viewing would prove interminable.
But then, that’s one major problem with “The Orphanage”: it can’t decide what genre it wants to be. What begins as a straight drama turns first to horror and then goes sharply into near-melodramatic territory. The end result is admirable, though (for me) a bit empty. I love a film that tries to push its own stereotypes, and in that sense I can’t say that I don’t recommend this movie on some level. I could see while watching it why the film has garnered adoration from some. It does try to reinvent the genre to some degree by bringing in elements that would otherwise not have been attempted in a single film. For that fact alone, the screenwriters are certainly to be commended. My problem with the film comes more from how, for all its ambitious intentions, “The Orphanage” simply cannot break free from cliche to save its life. All of the stand-bys of the horror genre are on full display here. From the disturbed child who draws creepy pictures, the over-use of the orchestrally-motivated “jump scare”, a scene involving a secret room hidden under wallpaper and another involving someone suddenly getting hit by a car out of camera range, a big “double-twist” of an ending right down to the desaturated, greenish look of the film itself, this movie exhibits virtually all of the new standards of horror. It even includes one of my personal pet peeves: the lengthy expositional flashback montage toward the climax that explains why all of this has happened. It was just too much for me to get around and enjoy the film. Hopefully others will be more fortunate.
Video: How does it look?
“The Orphanage” comes to Blu-ray in an extremely well-detailed 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer. I was extremely impressed by the level of detail in this presentation. Many of the opening establishing sequences in particular serve to showcase the transfer’s perfect balance of pinpoint clarity and an appropriate, minute level of film grain throughout. I found this a very film-like presentation in virtually every respect, and despite my reservations about the intentionally muted color palette (it’s a bit tiresome to see all modern-day horror shot with the same colors muted, the same over-pumped contrast and the same bright hues oddly accentuated for effect), I cannot fault a transfer for the artistic choices of the film’s creators. Fans of this film will not be disappointed here in any respect, and as such this disc earns a perfect score for video. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Audio: How does it sound?
Likewise, the audio presentation on the Blu-ray of “The Orphanage” is near-reference quality. This isn’t the disc to show off your sound system per se, but even the DTS core track that I was able to decode under my current system had enough ambiance to be fully convincing. The vast majority of the film is dialogue-driven and, as such, remains relatively front-heavy. What impressed me most, however, was the absolute transparency of the mix when the onscreen action called for it to kick in. Your subwoofer will get a workout in some sequences. It may even be a bit too effective to be honest. A knock on a door wouldn’t really cause your entire floor to rumble with deep, thunderous bass in the real world. But then, we’re not talking verisimilitude, we’re going for what serves the atmosphere and sells the mood of the film. And this audio presentation will not disappoint. Dialogue is clean and discernable, music is bombastic and full, and surrounds are used to great effect when called for. Even some of the quieter moments feature a bit of surround ambiance, a welcome change from most films like this that use envelopment only for “gotcha” scares. An English-dubbed DTS Stereo track and a Spanish DTS Stereo track are also available for those inclined…but why would you be?
Supplements: What are the extras?
“The Orphanage” doesn’t give us quite the bevy of extras that it might appear to at first glace. Although the menu breaks down the featurettes into what looks like a wealth of supplemental sections, it really only amounts to around an hour of fluff. It’s not that the features aren’t engaging, but they’re nothing revelatory, either. What you essentially get here are the typically studio-produced EPK-style featurettes that give you information about all the major aspects of the production but not a lot of information about any one thing. There’s also a still gallery (broken up into the aforementioned sections) and four trailers. Again, it’s not that the extras here aren’t worthy of the film or the disc, they’re just nothing to write home about. Slightly better than what you might expect, but no more than that. Still, fans of the film will find these features moderately interesting, though some information does tend to repeat itself from one segment to the next, which is always a disappointment.