Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: As part of the A.V. Club’s 10 Days Of Horror, we recommend the movies that frighten us the most.
The Orphanage (2007)
In a featurette on the making of The Orphanage, screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez says that the original script was “pure horror,” which seems almost impossible to believe considering where it ended up: It’s a beautifully, carefully layered film that’s part puzzlebox, part mystery, part fantasy, part family drama, part haunted house. Belén Rueda plays a woman who returns to the orphanage where she lived as a child, intent on re-opening the creaky, spooky old house as a home for special-needs children. She’s accompanied by her husband and her own adopted son, Simón, who soon begins talking about a ghostly group of children that only he can see. One of those children, Tomás, happens to wear a burlap sack with a face painted on it over his head, and it’s one of the scariest images in this movie (or almost any other). When Simón goes missing, The Orphanage lurches into the real world: Was he abducted, and if so, was it by earthly or supernatural forces? The Spanish movie—executive-produced and fully endorsed by Guillermo Del Toro—twists and turns until its end, sublimating standard scary-movie tricks into a film that’s not just terrifying, but heartbreaking as well.