chris Atchison/Metro Toronto


The Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona, foreground, with writer Sergio G. Sanchez.


Contrary to conventional filmmaking methodology, director Juan Antonio Bayona avoided referencing the movies of his youth when he set out to make his first feature, the horror film The Orphanage.

Instead, the 32-year-old recalled memories of the films he didn’t see as a child, but only heard, as a source of inspiration.

“Every week on Spanish TV, every Monday there was a scary movie so my parents would send me to bed and I remember lying in bed listening to the sound of the TV and imagining the movie in my head. That was the most scary movie you could ever imagine,” Bayona says.

Perhaps it’s telling The Orphanage’s brand of horror is far more subtle than that of most films in the genre. Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sanchez explain they had the advantage of being able to solicit advice from Oscar-nominated director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), who co-produced the film.

The influence is clear, namely their reliance on character development over average shock-value conventions, an approach that has served del Toro well.

“In modern horror it’s usually all about the gore and the cheap scares,” Sanchez says. “What works in this movie is that you have a strong central story and a character that you can sympathize with and care about her … there are not many scary moments, there’s only three or four, but when they come at you they make you jump out of your seat.”

The Orphanage tells the story of a husband and wife (actors Fernando Cayo and Belén Rueda) who purchase a former orphanage with the intention of converting it into a home for sick children.

But when their son Simon makes an invisible friend and eventually disappears, a terrifying series of events occur around the house and the couple’s life is thrown into turmoil.

It’s no surprise that in pre-screenings the filmmakers have already noted a difference in reaction to the film amongst audience members who have children and those who don’t.

“He doesn’t have children and I don’t,” Bayona says, “but watching the film with parents, it’s devastating on them in parts.”

“Anyone can empathize with a woman who’s lost her child and doesn’t know where he is. I think that’s universal,” Sanchez adds.

  • The Orphanage opens in theatres on Friday.