Guillermo del Toro follows up Pan's Labyrinth with another fantastic dark fable. The Orphanage is a haunted house flick as good as the best of the genre. All of the traditional elements are there: a current resident of the house has a connection to its past; there are dark secrets unknown to the residents; a child can see things the adults can't. The Orphanage is special because it is at once merciless and tender-hearted, and del Toro can do both equally well. There are cinematic nods to previous classic films, including the quietly creepy Robert Wise film The Haunting, and terrible but fun movies like Hell House and The Changling.
I'm a jaded old fan of ghost movies; I've seen it all, and can almost invariably spot a gimicky cheap thrill coming down the pike before its pay-off. There were a couple such moments in The Orphange, however, when I leapt about three feet out of my chair. Only about 12 people made the noon matinee today, but we sounded like a far larger crowd following one particularly effective surprise--gasping, shrieking, and finally chuckling in uncomfortable admiration. I have to give del Toro props for catching me off guard.
Yes, The Orphanage is similar in setting and theme to del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, but he manages to make a completely new film using the same raw materials. He can go on doing so every couple years, so far as I'm concerned.
Update: Ha! How lame am I? Del Toro only produced El Orfanato--it was directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Sorry, dude!