The year was 2007 and the film was The Orphanage.
I was sitting in the theatre, the scent of fresh popcorn blooming as the air conditioning kicked in and forced me to put on my sweater. I had no expectations for the film but I was intrigued by the trailer enough to go see it and was surely going to drag others to view it as well. Sadly for me, there were hardly any takers. Their loss. When the film began, I had no idea it was in Spanish with English subtitles, not that it was a surprise; the executive producer Guillermo del Toro was involved in another international film I loved, Pan’s Labyrinth or El laberinto del fauno (Written & directed by him -though I will note that del Toro has made films in English as well), which was also Spanish. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter–I’m a fast reader and got the hang of it after a while.
The film is focused on Laura, a woman from the orphanage originally, which is the main setting for the film, who returns as an adult in an attempt to reopen the orphanage with her husband and adopted son Simon (who doesn’t know he’s adopted or is suffering from HIV) and from there the thick tension and fear begins. The first sinister turn, other than the creepy history of the orphanage itself, is the veil of truth being pulled away from Simon regarding his illness and adoption. The news is too much to bare and he flees (and the truth of what happens to him is utterly heartbreaking), forcing Laura to search for him. As months lapse, she slowly uncovers the dark history of the orphanage that transpired after she left as a girl.
The film does well with building fear, showing just enough to keep the viewer intrigued and then providing a punch of shock to the jaw, destroying the comfort a viewer is in while watching this film. If you’re looking for the cheap scares and unnecessary gore–this film isn’t for you. If you want to be taken into an atmosphere, anticipating the worst as fear clings to you, then The Orphanage will surely satisfy.
But this post isn’t just about this particular film (though I clearly favored it enough)) but the allure of foreign horror films. As an avid horror film fan, going from an American-made film to a foreign one can sometimes leave me wanting more to watch beyond the borders and, of course, I have a theory on this–a movie recipe perhaps!
- 1 cup of an interesting European or foreign backdrop, because what’s more interesting than a land unseen that feels so authentic? A good example is, of course, a del Toro film: The Devil’s Backbone, the first film by him I had ever watched.
- 1 tablespoon of bizarre creatures that are far from cheesy– Japanese film Ringu by Hiroshi Takahashi (screenplay), Kôji Suzuki(novel), directed by Hideo Nakata. The film inspired American film The Ring – which I’ll note was pretty scary as a teen, until you realize the overuse of a blue hue in the film–I don’t care where you live, nowhere looks that depressing at all times.
- Two cups of cross genres and having the balls to ‘Go there’– so mix HORROR with a realistic setting and add some SUPERNATURAL bits to the pot. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay), John Ajvide Lindqvist (novel) and directed by Tomas Alfredson. The American version wasn’t that bad either but not even close to pushing the envelope and building a realistic setting with vampires (No glitter, no dramatic teen flare or cemetery visits). The film also deals with a lot of topics such as sexuality, bullying, neglect and personality dysfunctions.
Put it in a pan, bake it and BOOM–horror cake served!
Not all foreign films, as American films, are great–in fact I’m sure there is a mountain of terrible movies across all genres that have been created (I would say due to a low budget but low budget films have also done well at film festivals–there’s more to it than money; it starts with the script and how well it’s written down to how well is executed). The satisfying part of foreign horror films are the ‘unexpected’ moments, pushing the ‘shock’ value–or perhaps I just enjoy a setting in another country.