A troubled woman (Belen Rueda) brings her family back to her childhood home, where she opens an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, an eerie sense of fear begins to set in, as things are revealed to be not quite as they seem.

4
A fresh spin on the haunted house story.

After so many recent gorefests and limp Japanese ghost remakes, The Orphanage is a welcome return to classy, atmospheric horror. It’s a movie that’ll not only scare you, but haunt you after you’ve left the cinema.

The Orphanage in question is an old mansion by the sea where Laura once lived. 35 years later, Laura returns with her husband, Carlos, and their adopted son Simon. The plan is to open the house back up to underprivileged kids. But before Laura can do that, she’ll have to wrestle the ghosts and protect her family.

This is the first feature by writer-director Juan Antonio Bayona and he has been guided by Guillermo Del Toro, the filmmaker who gave us the modern masterpieces The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. Not surprisingly, The Orphanage feels cut from the same cloth.

There’s Gothic atmosphere; close attention to story; involving, well performed characters and a ghost story that’s mystifying, scary and emotionally affecting.

Bayuna’s film also sets itself apart by what doesn’t happen. For the first half an hour, it’s all build-up. The prowling of the camera, the sounds of the house, the gloom of the surrounding environment and little Simon’s nervousness all have us moving ever closer to the edge of our seats. And when Bayuna goes for sudden shocks he has us jumping out of them.

There are echoes older classic fright flicks, particularly The Others and Poltergeist, but this puts a fresh spin on the much-told haunted house story.

It’s not perfect – there’s one major plot hole and several loose ends left dangling – but this is classy, spooky stuff.

As a movie that offers some of the biggest scares in a while, The Orphanage rates four stars.

Watch 'The Orphanage' now at SBS On Demand: