Me and my partner found Guillermo Del Toro’s ”Mama” today, in CEX exchange-
I’d been looking for it for a long time having only seen it once, but I had loved the design of the ghost and wanted to watch it again to compare it to the recent release of ”Crimson peak”.
We bundled up on the couch and put it on, but got to discussing another of Del Toro’s works. The Orphanage.
I had seen this film years ago, so this review is by no means a recent one, but it left a deep impression on me, and did the same to my partner when I introduced him to it.
There are few films that could be made that live up to the prowess, creativity and terrifying aesthetic of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’- It was a masterpiece, but The Orphanage is a beautiful piece of Del Toro’s work that we both feel is vastly underrated, and perhaps even surpasses Pan…
(Bear in mind that the entire film is in Spanish, and subtitled!)
The film first introduces us to Laura, an orphan who returns to the children’s home that she grew up in, with the intention to reopen the home and care for other orphaned children with her husband, Carlos. They arrive with their small son Simon, a highly imaginative, but sickly little boy with ”invisible friends” that he talks to often, and invites home…
The film is one that unwinds relatively slowly at first, revealing secrets and snippets of the past, and making one beautiful and intertwining narrative. Part of what makes the film so gripping is that it really takes the time to show you the closeness of the relationship between Simon and his mother, and you grow to care about the two of them and the love they share. There have been too many films spoiled by a lack of care for the characters, and it is a well known fact that when there is affection, there is peril. When Simon goes missing, seemingly without a trace it is utterly heart rending to see the destruction that is wrought on Laura’s marriage and even on the lines of her face. The grief and worry is entirely believable and has a weight all of its own, almost becoming a character in itself, and I found myself searching back in my mind through every snippet of the film that I had seen, looking for clues myself. I had no fingernails left by the time the movie had ended!
During the course of the film, a spiritual medium is called, which heralds the turning point of all that happens, like the descent into the dark spiritual essence of the house (Even the camera filters get darker and colder).
She utters a line that is very prominent and almost repeated in many of Del toro’s films- the idea that ghosts are like a scar on the walls of reality, a painful wound routed in the past where the horrors of what have gone before are doomed to be repeated over and over, longing for a salvation that may never come.
”When something terrible happens, sometimes it leaves a trace, a wound that acts as a knot between two time lines. It’s like an echo repeated over and over, waiting to be heard. Like a scar… that begs for a caress to relieve it. You are a good mother. Your pain gives you strength, it will guide you. But only you know how far you are willing to go to find your son. You hear, but don’t listen. Seeing is not believing. It’s the other way around.
Believe, and you will see.”
It’s beautiful that this comes almost directly from a bible passage
John, 11:40- Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
The call for faith is an important feature, and obviously something dear to Del toro, who seems to spend much of his film career urging others to do the same (especially in the case of ghosts!) , and you by no means withhold yours in the remainder of the film.
Laura, like any mother, refuses to cease in her search for Simon, but spirals out of control in a blur of reality mixed with the childlike games of ghosts and the line between the living and the dead growing ever thinner as time passes.
There were few special effects that could make the film feel unrealistic, like ‘Mama’ did. Usually when something is revealed in a movie, it can grow old and stop being as terrifying. The reveal is kept close to the chest until the final moments- It was a film so harrowing that it even jerked tears from my other half (Bless him!).
Each of us said that it has everything needed in a film,
-Characters with depth, and believable, relationships,
-Care for the well-being of the protagonists,
-A true sense of danger, brought on by fragility in the characters,
-Scares that were necessary and not overused, as in many horror films today,
-Heartbreaking reveals and secrets that rock you to the very core,
-effective filters that enhanced the overall feel of the film, and stopped the past, present, other world and reality being too mixed together,
-stunning sets, particularly the house, that gave all of the personality the film needed- they need not have gone anywhere else (After all ”The Others” was just fine!)
-A solid ending that left the heart sore, but at least gave you a band-aid…
-creepy children and ghosts!
What else could you possibly want?
If you can see it, please- by all means, do! If you have seen Pan’s labyrinth I almost guarantee that it will surpass it, as least as far as storytelling goes (It would be hard to beat a faun costume as good as that!)
If you have seen this film, let me know what you think- do you agree with me, or think I was wrong?
I can’t wait to hear from you!