The Orphanage (El Orfanato) (2007)

Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Geraldine Chaplin

Directed by: JA Bayona

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Belen Rueda as Laura in the beautiful ghost story The Orphanage

When thirtysomething yummy mummy Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the orphanage in which she grew up, with the plan of turning it into a home for kids with special needs, you wouldn't think it would take a medium to tell her that ghosts are going to start coming out of the flock wallpaper and polished, dark woodwork.

The medium in question is summoned when Laura's adopted son Simón (Roger Príncep) disappears – taken, she believes, by the imaginary friends he's acquired since moving into the orphanage. Like Peter Pan's lost boys, the orphanage ghosts have never had the chance to grow up; better still, one of them is so deformed he has to wear a bag over his head. So far so Ring, The Dark, Hide and Seek, etc, albeit far more intelligent and beautifully shot than any of them.

But aside from the odd obligatory long eerie corridor/things that go bump in the night moment, The Orphanage takes its standard spooky subject matter and weaves it into a haunting, moving and compelling drama about death, loss, revenge and the fearless power of maternal love. (Dad, of course, is about as much use a chocolate teapot, but then aren't they always in this kind of film?)

A lost child resident of The Orphanage

Produced by the fabulous Guillermo del Toro, The Orphanage shares the theme of terrible human cruelty counterbalanced by supernatural solace with his Spanish civil war fantasies The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. Like the latter in particular, the film plays elegantly with our sense of reality, the ghostly goings-on underpinned by a sorrowful rationale that's more awful than anything that takes place in the phantom realm.

To give away too much about this film would be a crying shame – but speaking of crying, make sure you have a tissue handy for the unexpected, tear-jerking ending.

A creepy social workers, an emaciated medium on the brink of death (backed by a team of ghost hunters armed with reel-to-reel tapes, of all things – has nothing changed since Poltergeist?), an unnerving masked party reminiscent of The Wicker Man and a tribe of lost children trapped in Neverland, in search of a Wendy mother figure – what's not to love about this film? Like The Sixth Sense, it combines a brilliantly evocative atmosphere with some really quite shocking scary moments, suspense and twists with real heart and pathos. Thank goodness that, in between all the pointless South East Asian horror remakes flooding the multiplexes, there's room for some real class.

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