Cine Puro

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Memorial Day weekend seemed like as good a time as any to make some progress on the Netflix queue, in the form of a style-over-substance double feature.

In one of the special features for The Orphanage, executive producer Guillermo del Toro describes a couple of scenes as “pure cinema.” He’s talking about the scenes without dialogue that work just on the basis of some really creepy visuals, but he could just as well be describing the whole movie.

Because The Orphanage could only work as a movie, and it does so surprisingly well. It relies on suspense instead of cheap scares — except for one shot involving an ambulance, which works because it’s timed perfectly — but any of the suspenseful scenes, taken out of context, would just seem silly. Its plot is an almost insultingly simple and straightforward ghost story, but the movie knows exactly how much emphasis to give to the plot and how much to give to the psychological drama. And the drama would turn into overwrought or cloying melodrama without the performance of the lead actress, and the careful way scenes are staged and filmed.

You’ll frequently see it compared to The Others and Pan’s Labyrinth, but that’s not just a case of lazy movie reviewing, comparing it to the only other Spanish-made horror-like movies that Americans have heard of. It exists squarely between those two: it’s a better movie than The Others, with more depth and without the need for a twist ending, but with a very similar look, a similar premise (a mother trapped in a cavernous, haunted house), and an “old-school” ghost story mentality.

And it’s not as good as Pan’s Labyrinth, but thematically it’s extremely similar. I wish that they were more similar: there are scenes where the mother is playing with her son that are just wonderful, but they’re quickly relegated to being plot points, instead of reminders of what it’s like to think like a child. And they tacked on two completely unnecessary short scenes at the end of the movie (and flashbacks during the climax) to explain everything; I wish they’d stuck with the ambiguously happy ending of Pan’s Labyrinth.

People who get paid to review movies frequently toss around the term “dream-like,” and I’d use that here, but in a different context: it’s like the kind of dream that feels so vivid and meaningful right as you wake up, but the second you try to explain it or even remember the details, it seems trite and meaningless. I really enjoyed The Orphanage an awful lot, and everything it tried to do — from horror to drama to joyful “childlike wonder” moments — totally worked for me up until the end. But I’m wary of thinking about it too much, because I’m afraid it’ll evaporate.

Snatch, on the other hand, is just plain bullshit. I don’t even like calling it style over substance, since it’s been less than eight years and already there’s no style left. It’s an hour and a half being assaulted by a jackass who believes he’s a hell of a lot cooler and smarter than he is. I can’t remember the last time I’ve wanted so much to physically smack the smug dumb-ass expression off of a movie.

And I’m really tired of seeing movies that prove Quentin Tarantino knows what he’s doing, and how awful it is when some tone-deaf person tries to do the same thing. Hey, why don’t you spin the camera around one more time, cool guy? That is what we in the movie business call style, man, that shit never gets old.

6 thoughts on “Cine Puro”

  1. I had little tolerance for “Snatch,” although I will admit Brad Pitt made me laugh a few times. And it also reintroduced me to the awesome song “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers.

    As for “The Orphanage”…man. Perhaps a spoiler here, but that ending was depressing as hell.

  2. That’s part of why I compared The Orphanage to Pan’s Labyrinth, because I thought the endings were pretty much identical. (Except for the scenes tacked onto the end of The Orphanage to explain exactly what happened).

    Like Pan’s Labyrinth, I interpreted it as a happy ending, or at least “bittersweet.” In one of the special features, they describe the story as Peter Pan told from the mother’s perspective, and I think they pulled that off.

  3. Well, to get specific—and whopping spoiler ahead:

    I’m mainly talking about finding out how the kid died, that he was stuck down there, and it was mainly his mother’s fault. That just made me feel horrible for hours after the movie ended…even thinking about it now makes me feel kind of awful.

  4. I recently saw The Orphanage too and loved it. Actually I didnt at first, it felt like it was going down very familiar ‘OMG SPOOKY GHOST KIDS’ roads, but as it got towards the ending you got the feeling it was something else. (BEGIN SPOILERS) I loved the fact that in the end there was no ghosts, no supernatural terrors, just plain old human ignorance and tragedy and in a way thats even more horrible.
    Yeah it was a depressing ending but that one stuck with me for a few days, trying to unravel it in my head.

  5. Well, either they left that to interpretation, or I missed out on something significant. I thought they were careful to show that everything she thought was supernatural also had a rational explanation, but without ruling out the existence of ghosts completely.

    The big one is how did Simon know about “Tomas’ little house” in the first place? He could possibly have found the room on his own, but those heavy metal whatevers that trapped the door would’ve been difficult for a kid to lift, if he were just wandering.

    Plus, the whole start of the thing, the first time he ever mentioned Tomas, was after going into the cave. And he couldn’t have learned about the cave unless there were something spooky going on.

  6. Well yeah, I guess their rule was: You cant see ghosts unless you are ill and/or near death. The psychic lady was sick, Simon was sick, and the mother never actually saw a ghost until she started chugging sleeping pills. So maybe he did me ghost Tomas in the cave, or maybe he found the room by himself.

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