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Film / The Orphanage

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"A tale of love. A story of horror."

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) is a Spanish-language horror film directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy fame. With its claustrophobic and creepy atmosphere and surprising twists, it is one of the most horrifying films ever.

Laura and her husband Carlos decide to return to the orphanage where she grew up before she was adopted. Laura has herself adopted a son, Simón, who is HIV-positive. There is, however, a secret to the orphanage and what happened there after Laura left - including Tomás, a mysterious boy who always wears a sack mask.

The rest you'll have to see, because it is supremely scary.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: To have your child suddenly disappear without a trace is one of the most horrifying experiences ever.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie
  • Arc Words: "Un, dos, tres, toca la pared."
    • "One, two, three, touch the wall."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Laura finds Simón...dead, and it's her fault. She commits suicide, but is reunited in death with Simón and the other orphan because that was Simón's wish that he had granted after winning the scavenger hunt game. The movie ends with Carlos learning that his wife and adopted son are now happily haunting the orphanage, which is something he smiles about.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Perhaps the most heart wrenching example ever with the steel scaffolds in the cupboard under the stairs. They fall out of the cupboard while Laura is searching for Simón and she puts them back against the back wall of the cupboard before continuing the search. By doing so, she unknowingly blocks the entrance to Tomás' secret room while Simón is inside and leads to his death.
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  • Chekhov's Skill: Simón teaching Laura a scavenger-type of game becomes important later in the movie.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Averted; after the bus accident, someone tries CPR on Benigna—it doesn't work, and she looks anything but pretty afterwards.
  • Creepy Basement: That basement is giving chills.
  • Creepy Child: Tomás, sometimes Simón, and all the other orphans in the end - arguably due to Children Are Innocent
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Although it's less nihilistic and more bittersweet.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The ghosts of the other orphans, including Tomas, are simply trying to warn Laura that Simón is trapped in the basement.
  • Deadly Prank: Tomás died because of one.
  • Fingore: At one point Laura has her fingers slammed in a closing door by Tomás's ghost, trying to warn her about Simón. It's bloody and icky and fingers should not bend that way. One of her nails falls right off.
  • Foreshadowing: Laura has a necklace with a St. Anthony medallion. This is actually clever foreshadowing since St. Anthony is a doctor and patron saint of lost items.
    • Laura mentions that they plan to care for six or seven special needs children. She does. They just turn out to be dead.
  • Ghostly Goals
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Subverted.
  • Haunted Heroine: Laura.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Tomás made a horrible rasping noise.
  • Imaginary Friend: Simón has many and Laura thinks Tomás is one of them.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Inverted, the ads and trailers for this movie make it seem like it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, not the actual director, Juan Antonio Bayona.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, of course.
  • I See Dead People: Well, she can hear them.
    • Later in the film she can actually see them.
  • Nightmare Face: Tomás without his mask. Also, Benigna, when she dies.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A lot of the movie is built on incredibly unnerving atmosphere as opposed to jumpscares. For example, early on in the film Laura wakes up to hear a clanging sound from outside. She goes out the front door and heads toward the shed, where the noise seems to be coming from. She says "Who's there?". Suddenly the crickets stop chirping, the clanging stops, the wind stops, and she is surrounded by an extremely chilling silence.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The entire film is set in a former orphanage. Played with, since it wasn't all that frightening back when the protagonist lived there, though. Apart from one creepy employee it was closer to Orphanage of Love, considering how she remembered it with affection. Later it really became one when that same creepy employee ended up POISONING the other children and burning the remains to hide in a coal storage.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Benigna after the car crash.
  • Psychic Powers: The medium can hear the orphans screaming.
  • Scare Chord
  • See No Evil, Hear No Evil: Justified in the bus crash, since everything fades to silence. Presumably, the characters' attention is so occupied that they don't hear it either.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Carlos, but not so much as he still supports Laura.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Benigna. After Tomas died, she poisoned all the other orphans.


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