Early in Guillermo Del Toro’s directorial career, the then “young” Spanish filmmaker explored orphaned children as troubled ghosts in The Devil’s Backbone. Years later, Del Toro “presents” The Orphanage for young Spanish director J.A. Bayona, a film which explores an identical subject matter while borrowing heavily from classics like Peter Pan, Poltergeist and even The Others. The result is neither innovative nor memorable, but serves as a satisfactory rite of passage for Bayona who can only hope to one day walk in Del Toro’s internationally acclaimed shoes.
The Orphanage is most effective when its ghostly children are “in play,” only those moments are few and far between. Instead, Bayona spends much of his time tagging along behind Laura, a once-orphaned child who returns to her old orphanage as an adult in hopes of resurrecting it to aid special kids, her HIV-positive son included. Bayona’s emotional struggle with her son’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent obsession with finding him is well acted and portrayed, but the creepiness of ghostly children with unknown motives wandering the orphanage is where the camera’s needed to stay focused.
New Line Home Entertainment snaring the domestic home video rights to The Orphanage is the best thing that could have happened to Bayona’s notoriety. In addition to carrying Del Toro’s strong name plastered across it, New Line has consistently delivered A-grade high definition presentations on their Blu-ray Disc releases. The Orphanage stands to only benefit from a spacious Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with its reliance on natural ambient effects and mysterious noises in the night.
To say The Orphanage merely benefits from lossless audio would be disservice to the incredible sound design this film delivers. The mix is extremely aggressive in punching out subtle sounds designed to raise goose bumps for a horror film without much action that hardly deserves an R-rating. Whether something is creaking, banging, whistling in the wind, crashing, breaking, or moving in the slightest, the sound is crisp, strong and perfectly directionally placed where it’s supposed to be.
Likewise a rock solid VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer accentuates the heavily Del Toro-influenced “creative” shot compositions. Natural light is used in abundance to create atmosphere resulting in lots of grays and subdued tones that never wash out. When scenes present heavy contrast like a voyage into a shoreline cave or exteriors covered in snow, contrast is night and day with blacks remaining strong no matter what. Only minor instances of edge enhancement in always pesky deep outdoor scenes mar a more-than-pleasing high-def transfer.
The beauty of The Orphanage on Blu-ray is only sacrificed in its supplemental features, all of which were ported directly from the DVD in 480p standard definition. This is disappointing to say the least, but does emphasize how much the feature benefits from 1080p.
When Laura Grew Up: Constructing the Orphanage (17:38) offers a look into the pre-production and how the concept got off the ground via interview snippets with the filmmakers. Emphasis was placed on getting the right performances from the cast, young and old, and it shows.
Tomas” Secret Room: The Filmmakers (10:17) is actually five short featurettes viewable as a whole. Some of the footage is identical to the previous featurette which feels a bit cheap. A remarkable revelation here is the use of 200 digitally modified shots, many of which in scenes you would have never guessed.
Horror in the Unknown: Make-Up Effects (9:22) digs into the film’s only two “gross” effects.
Rehearsal Studio: Cast Auditions and Table Read (3:43) spends too much time setting up with interviews and not enough time at the actual table read.
Also included are a Stills Gallery with the cast, make-up effects, set design and location, black and white photography, production, and conceptual art; Posters; and the Spanish and English Teaser and Theatrical Trailers.
New Line’s The Orphanage Blu-ray Disc delivers beyond the audio and video presentation I’ve come to expect from the studio. Though the film’s “twist ending” nature doesn’t offer much replay-ability and the supplemental features are tacked on, there are countless demo-worthy scenes that show off what lossless DTS-HD Master Audio is capable of without the benefit of gunfire and explosions driving it. Adopting this disc into your collection will make the rest of your Blu-ray titles jealous.
– Dan Bradley