I haven’t seen a horror movie this good since The Others.
‘El Orfanato’ starts slow but interesting, with the right kind of obtrusive creepiness in normal situations that most horror films dream of pulling off. It’s called atmosphere, and the mix of the Spanish language, dusty orphanage building, little kids, and creepy old lady make certain that you will always be a bit ill at ease. The pacing of the movie is great as well. The clearly defined acts have separate feels, starting with perhaps generic spookiness, getting into Poltergeist territory, and then overlapping a bit with the aforementioned The Others.
One great feat of The Orphanage is that it makes sure to have iconic imagery to really stand out and linger in the mind. If unsettling images don’t linger in your mind then I’d argue there was something lacking. This is impressive considering the majority of the action takes place in the most overdone of horror elements- a giant abandoned building.
There are a couple minor elements that feel out of place, as if they were put in more to cause a mysterious fear in the audience. While these moments may succeed in contributing to the greater atmosphere, their purpose on review feels slightly hackneyed. But overall the film is well thought out and it seems unfair to dwell on the least important aspects of it.
90% of horror movies really have no value at all, and among the ones that manage notice, 90% of those can’t deliver a satisfying pay off. When I reference The Sixth Sense and The Others as masterpieces, it is because of their qualities that stand out. A slow build with strong characters, tense scenes without resorting to cheap scares, interesting and emotional questions raised, and a conclusion that both explains previous events and pulls the story together. The Orphanage fits well in this company.