Where cinema has been awash with 'gorno' and, frankly, unnecessary J-horror retreads of late, there exists a dearth of films that asks audiences to find the scares; to fear the unknown, the unseen, rather than overt bloodletting. Contrarily, The Orphanage is as far from the likes of 'Hostel' as it could be, before it crosses the genre boundary.
When Laura (Rueda) and her husband (Cayo) reopen the orphanage she once lived in,
the appearance of her son's (Princep) not-so imaginary friend heralds an awakening that treads an ambiguous line into the darkness.
And it's this darkness that fuels what follows. Aside from the haunting cinematography, everything has been plumbed for emotional resonance - the vast, creaky house; a cave that plays havoc with the mind; the wrought performances (Rueda's especially); plus the set pieces, chief of which sees an excavation reveal a buried secret that peels back new layers of tragedy. Like all good horrors, it's the drama and story beneath that makes for compelling watching.
Rest assured there are out-and-out jumps, too, one of which proves the horrific can occur any time of day. Bayona is not above employing the traditional deck of basic scares.
Influences are obvious - 'The Others', 'The Shining', 'Don't look Now' - cementing the creeping dread; the slow-burn story as the markings of first-rate film making. Despite loose threads, The Orphanage is a startlingly intelligent debut, as beautiful and sad, as it is terrifying.