There is nothing new in the horror flick The Orphanage. There is a haunted house. There are ghosts. There are deformed kids, there are masks, there are unsettling old/young people, there are flickering video screens filled with grainy night vision, and there are—totally unironically—things that go bump in the night. In short, screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona are content to dig up and exploit every worn-out horror cliché they can think of—which'd be a problem if The Orphanage wasn't so goddamn scary.
Executive produced by Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro, the Spanish The Orphanage is none-too-subtly being marketed in the same vein as the Mexican Pan's (even The Orphanage's logo bears a suspicious similarity to that of Pan's). But they're radically different pictures: While Pan's Labyrinth cerebrally dealt with the intersection of myth and reality, The Orphanage is single-mindedly focused on scaring the shit out of its audience. Here's the unsurprising deal: Either incredibly bravely or incredibly stupidly, Laura (Belén Rueda) revisits the eerie building she grew up in. She's decided to live in the house—which was once an orphanage—with her husband and young son. Obviously, the place has some creeeeepy history, and obviously, the imaginary friends Laura's son soon "meets" are bad fucking news, and obviously, Laura's immediately terrorized by sinister little ghost-children, and people are suddenly and gruesomely getting creamed by trucks and oh, sure, why shouldn't Laura watch this creepy old home movie she found and HOLY FUCK WHAT WAS THAT DID YOU HEAR IT IN THE SHADOWS?
But despite its lazy familiarity, The Orphanage works—Bayona knows exactly what he's doing as he slowly tightens the film's pacing and pitch-black tone into a nearly unbearable scare-machine. The Orphanage doesn't offer anything fresh, but at least it reminds us why those tired horror clichés became clichés in the first place.