A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though the R-rating is too harsh, brief but grotesque visuals let us know the filmmakers could do worse if they wanted to. Disturbing imagery includes a mutilated victim of a car collision and a deformed kid with a skull-like face. A suicide attempt figures in the ending. There is a theme of infanticide and dead children. Nothing is shown, but we get news of children causing a playmate's death, then being killed (by poison) themselves. An HIV-positive character is part of the plot, and it's pretty much given as a death sentence.
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What's the story?
A Spanish-made ghost tale, THE ORPHANAGE (original tite: "El Orfanato") happens at a sprawling old mansion, a former orphanage, looming by the seacoast. Laura (Belen Rueda) used to be housed here as a child. Now she's a doctor, and she, along with her physician husband Carlos (kind of odd we never see them do any actual work) buy the building and move in with their own adopted boy Simon (Roger Princep). Simon is dying of AIDS, but the doting parents keep it a secret -- that plus the fact that he's not really their child. Disturbingly, Simon learns these things anyway. He claims his new "imaginary" friends in the mansion have told him. After strange glimpses of disappearing kids, and clues that something terrible happened to the orphanage children after Laura left, Simon vanishes. His adoptive mom turns to psychics and mediums to desperately come up with an answer.
Is it any good?
In the crowded field of movie ghost stories, The Orphanage belongs with the better ones that use mood and suspense, rather than blood/gore/sex/bad taste, to evoke shock value. Even so, sharp-witted viewers of any age might be asking themselves sensible questions, like why didn't this family, uh, check out the tragic history of the creepy old building before buying it? But there's a neat dark-fairy-tale atmosphere, a minimum of gross-outs (except a horribly mangled victim of roadkill), and a really clever way the script turns the Peter Pan plot inside-out, to suit a more modern and ominous story of Really Lost Boys (and girls). Give this one a chance on Halloween, subtitles and all.
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