really scary movie

29 March 2008, 7:27 am

El Orfanato, a.k.a. The Orphanage, had me all frisson -ed even before the credits rolled (”one, two, three, knock on the wall” has got to be the creepiest kid’s game ever). It’s a pull-out-all-the-stops haunted house story that reminded me obliquely of The Others*, and two of the most frightening pieces of fiction I’ve read in the past several years, Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” and John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer. Belé Rueda is terrific in the lead role; she’s gutsy and tenacious, which makes her terror all the more affecting. Óscar Faura’s cinematography is gorgeous. Sergio Sánchez’s screenplay is well-paced and true to its internal logic; it’s also nuanced enough to support the dichotomy at the heart of so many classic ghost-stories: are there supernatural goings-on, or are we seeing through the eyes of Laura as she goes farther and farther around the bend?

Sánchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona wield many of the standard ghost-story tropes — doors closing on their own, reveal shots in sudden illumination, jump cuts — but, as with The Ring, my awareness of the tricks being used on me didn’t diminish their effectiveness. I was glad I saw it in a theater; the people screaming all around me were actually kind of reassuring.

Highly recommended.

* spoileriffic aside if you’ve seen both films (highlight the text with your mouse to read it; stop reading now if you don’t want a spoiler and you’re not viewing this site with its styles)

El Orfanato could practically be a prequel to The Others

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