I’m not doing so well with the keeping up on the posting. Oh well. Last night was an unexpectedly late night. It was a SPOOKY late night though. So that counts for something. I think?

I went to downtown LA’s Last Bookstore for a reading of spooky stories and tales. And it was fantastic. It was a mix of good old campfire tales, zombie humor, mystery, and a very large puppet. A very cool event.

Anyway, yesterday’s movie. Today.

It’s actually kind of the obvious follow up to my last movie, The Devil’s Backbone. Yesterday’s movie was the atmospheric, tragic, heartbreaking The Orphanage.

The Orphanage – Spain, 2007. Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona, Screenplay Sergio G. Sanchez. Starring Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep.

Spain is killing it this month with the ghost stories. It’s funny, because when I think of haunted house movies I don’t necessarily pick out one country or another as being ahead in the game. But, at least in the last decade or so, the best of them seem to be coming from Spain. I mean, I guess that’s probably at least partly due to Guillermo del Toro’s success and his affinity for the supernatural. The director of The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Executive Producer of The Orphanage. And I’m looking forward to another one he’s EP on, the upcoming Mama that I believe should be out in the states early next year.

But back to The Orphanage. This is a great movie and, like The Devil’s Backbone, part of what makes it so engrossing are the compelling characters and in particular the relationship between Laura and her adopted son Simon. A lot of this movie is about motherhood but also about lost children. And the way they come together in the end is poignant as it is tragic.

The Orphanage begins as Laura, her husband Carlos, and their son Simon move into the grand old orphanage where Laura grew up. She has fond memories of her time in the house, of her friends, and she and Carlos have high hopes of turning the house into a home for sick children like their son who is HIV positive. Simon is bright, clever, and lonely. He’s made up several imaginary friends to keep himself company and while Laura and Carlos are concerned, they figure Simon will forget about these friends once the other children arrive.

The house sits near a beach and Laura takes Simon to collect sea shells. At the beach, there is a large cave and, like little boys do, Simon goes exploring in search of pirate treasure. However, it’s not treasure he finds.

Parenting tip: if your child meets an imaginary friend in a dark cave, don’t let him leave a trail of seashells for that friend to follow you home.

Because Simon leaves a trail. And someone, or something, follows.

The location for this film is one suited for haunting. It’s an old, dark house and while it may have once been a place of joy, it has become a place of mourning and sadness. Laura can’t see it at first, but tragedy has filled the halls that she and her friends used to fill with laughter.

This is such a sad, sad story. Another one that makes me want to cry more than scream. Although there some genuinely chilling moments. Such as the morning after their beach adventure, when Laura opens the front door. And finds the seashells Simon had laid out for his friends piled up there on the threshold. Doors open and close on their own. There are whispers and cries in the night. In a moment straight out of The Haunting, Laura has a conversation in bed with someone she believes to be her husband, until she realizes he was in the bathroom all along.

But again, what makes this movie so effective is that it has a strong story and characters we care about. It’s as much a movie about family, grief, and loss. About how parents cope with the lose of a child. About how much children need someone to care for them. It’s also about the frailty of life and the inevitability of death.

What is that children really want though? Mostly, children just want to play.