Although there are six years separating the movies and they have distinct plots, “The Others” and “The Orphanage” have things in common, such as a Spanish production and a near-perfect execution.
The Others (2001)
“The Others” is a ghost horror movie directed by Spanish Alejandro Amenábar. It became the first film in history to receive the prestigious Spanish Goya Award in the Best Picture category for a film where not a line was spoken in Spanish (IMDB).“The Others” tells of a single mother Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, together with her two small children, Anne and Nicolas, lives in a remote house in Jersey just after the WWII. The household has changed a number of servants, and welcomed the arrival of three new ones: Mrs Mills, a housekeeper, Edmund Tuttle, a gardener and Lydia, a mute girl servant. After the servants’ arrival, the mother and her children start to detect intruders in their home, who sometimes leave very surprising traces.
First, it should be said that there is a very talented director behind “The Others”: Alejandro Amenábar has had his misguided “misses”, for example, “Agora” (2009) and recent “Regression” (2015), but he also directed moving and critically-acclaimed “The Sea Inside” (2004) and clever “Open Your Eyes” (1997). “The Others” is slow to get started, but the film soon builds up enough tension to be quite scary: there are pale, strange-looking children with mysterious photosensitive disease, a creepy mute servant, strange locking/opening of doors and a great use of silence, all providing for intense thrills. The tense, “dreamy” atmosphere is also created: there is right music, Gothic-style old buildings and the fog, which, incidentally, made Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), realised only two years before, truly eerie. True, these effects are traditional and not very original, and the movie’s final twist is now too well-known, but they are all executed with such skill that an “old-fashioned”, simple ghost story becomes a very scary experience.
Kidman, although sometimes overdramatising her role, is excellent as a woman who is slowly going insane in her futile attempts to protect her home and children against the unknown intruder(s). The young cast is also very good, especially Alakina Mann in the role of Grace’s daughter. A special mention is reserved for Fionnula Flanagan in the role of Mrs Mills. Just the mere presence of the housekeeper in the scene, with just the right look on her face, is enough for goose bumps to run.
Overall, an engaging script, acting, music and Gothic-style surroundings all create the right atmosphere in this movie, making “The Others” a very effective and enjoyable horror ride. 8/10
The Orphanage (2007)
“The Orphanage” is a Spanish-language horror film directed by J.A. Bayona, with an executive producer being no other than Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)). The movie is about a family (mother Laura, father Carlos and their young son Simon) who settles into their new home, which in the past was an orphanage for handicapped children, and also Laura’s home. Soon after their arrival, Simon acquires a group of imaginary friends, a fact which starts to disturb his parents.
There are few horror movies, which can bypass children, and “The Orphanage” is no exception. Usually, there are horror movies which focus on children’s strange behaviour or a creepy character, such as “Orphan” (2009) or “Mama” (2013), but “The Orphanage” is pleasantly different. It starts and continues more like an exciting mystery film, rather than a true horror movie with blood and gore. Though it is slow and wastes a lot of time in the beginning, there are tension and scary sequences throughout, though requiring some patience. Soon, the plot focuses on Laura and Carlos’s son who disappears under mysterious circumstances, and the rest of the film is concerned with solving the mystery, which takes a more sinister turn as time passes. The grief-stricken mother of missing Simon attends help groups and even resorts to the help of paranormal activity experts. Here, the movie maybe a tad absurd, a tad unrealistic, and a tad too sentimental, for example, when the family’s hired medium gets into a “trance” to solve the puzzle, or when we think about what actions would have been taken in real life to solve the disappearance of a child. However, the movie completely redeems itself towards the end, transpiring into something very imaginative.
The director J.A. Bayora (“The Impossible” (2012)) creates a suspenseful, eerie atmosphere in the movie, which is beautifully executed with good acting, especially from the lead actress Belén Rueda, whose character is mesmerising to watch in the final sequence when her hired paranormal activity experts and her husband abandon her, and she embarks on the mystery-solving all alone. The movie may not be original overall, for example, some similarities can be found with “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001), but what horror movies are truly original nowadays?
“The Orphanage” is not without its screenplay pitfalls and problems with pacing, but it is a beautifully presented, tense and entertaining film overall. Moreover, the movie has a clever, thought-provoking ending, which although may seem confusing for some at some point, is very rewarding and satisfying for those who can figure out the sequence of events. 8/10