El Orfanato [The Orphanage] (2007)

(In theaters, January 2008) The best horror films are often those that don’t reach for your throat with cheap shocks, loud stingers and oceans of blood. The Orphanage will feel immediately familiar to fans of The Sixth Sense, The Others and Pan’s Labyrinth: For a long time, there’s little to suggest that this is a horror film, and the hints only accumulate gradually. Cranked like a purring machine, The Orphanage is light on shocks and deep in atmosphere. Belén Rueda’s performance carries nearly the entire film as her character falls apart over the course of the events. There’s much to applaud in the script, from the double-trigger twist to an emotionally satisfying climax that works by not wimping out. There are a few rough spots for dramatic purposes, but the rest of the film holds together and is easily better than the vast majority of American horror films. Remember the pedigree I mentioned? This is the horror film that every connoisseur will have to see this year, if only to nag those who haven’t.

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