The directing debut of del Toro apprentice J.A. Bayona comes across as a measured supernatural tale, less sanguine than in more horror thrillers these days.
The script concocted by Sergio G. Sanchez centers mainly on a woman and her son who just seems to vanish one day.
The mother, Laura, a very good Belen Rueda, initially moves with her husband (Fernando Cayo) and loving young son Simon (Roger Princep) into a coastal abode. That enclave happened to be the orphanage where she dwelled prior to being adopted three decades previously.
The plan for the thoughtful couple is to make it to accommodate disabled kids. Yet, the placid intentions turn out awry as one learns how stressful Simon's life is. Something eerie crops into Laura's head as Simon produces a sketch for her. And, before her son suddenly disappears, Laura has a strange meeting with a boy whose face is covered over by a burlap bag.
The Orphanage then moves ahead half a year, trying to realize its procedural instincts with instances with an oracle and criminal psychologists. Through a seance and the driven mother in Laura, something about individuals abandoned and her past and future create a dreadful mood, an apprehension as one wonders about her psychological state.
If Bayona doesn't quite stage it all with the nimble aplomb that Alejandro Amenabar did with Nicole Kidman, there is the way of the production (especially lensing and art direction) and acting (especially Rueda and Princep) that enhances the vagueness and shock when it arrives.
Maybe the finale is too soft and magical, but this is a case of a promising filmmaker being able often to keep an audience entranced.