(2007)4Michael BueningThe Orphanage is an assured and promising feature debut from director Juan Antonio Bayona. Like executive producer Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, it's a classically gothic character-driven ghost story about a woman (Belén Rueda) who attempts to reopen the orphanage where she was raised and gets distracted after her son is abducted by the spirits of her childhood friends. Bayona builds on the premise by drawing on a wide variety of fantasy/horror sources, including Peter Pan, Halloween, and Poltergeist (in an entertaining séance scene with Geraldine Chaplin as the medium). His fondness for cheap but effective scares doesn't get in the way of screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez's smart plotting, which emphasizes psychological twists over supernatural explanations. The Orphanage doesn't break new ground in horror films, but Bayona and Sánchez take familiar ghost-story ingredients -- from the lighthouse on the shore to dank cellars, shacks, and caves -- and refresh them with skillful storytelling and a sharp entertainer's knack for pleasing an audience. The Orphanage was featured in the 45th New York Film Festival.