The Orphanage welcomely rescues the ghost story away from its hijack by the Hollywood treatment with over-the-top gore, CGI effects and pretty teen casts and places it firmly back into the old-fashioned arena of the psychological. Indeed, The Orphanage is an example of a ghost story that is not reliant on any effects at all (with the possible exception of one or two loud amplified bangs on the soundtrack). Directorially, J.A. Bayona is not trying to constantly push us towards jumps and there are never any scares that are unearned. It is an example of a film that gains its effect from the immersion in mood and slow building atmosphere. There are times that this mood builds to the unbearable like the scene where medium Geraldine Chaplin conducts a seance, the bulk of which takes place as seen through monitoring video cameras. Nothing overtly haunted ever happens, there are no manifestations but the scene builds to a level that is unsettlingly eerie in its anticipation of something imminent about to happen. The other such scene is when Belen Rueda stays in the house alone and then plays the game of Knock on Wood and suddenly the children appear and keep getting closer every time she turns around.
The story is a straightforward run-through of the basics of the genre a terrible crime of the past replaying itself in the present, it being suggested that everything is in the heroines mind and she insistently going on a quest to find out what happened and lay it all to rest. The eventual explanation of what happened to Simon falls into place with a cleverness and the final images of the film with Belen Rueda accepting her role as den mother to the orphans is effectively haunting. In the central role, Belen Rueda gives a strong and vulnerable performance that carries the film a considerable part of the way.
An English-language remake has been announced for sometimes in the 2010s. J.A. Bayona next made the acclaimed non-genre tsunami drama The Impossible (2012) and returned to genre material with A Monster Calls (2016) about the relationship between a boy and a monster.