3 items from 2007
NEW YORK -- This Spanish supernatural thriller begins interestingly and finishes intriguingly. But what lies between drags because the film lacks a driving story line.
The muddy middle means that The Orphanage doesn't live up to the eerie promise of its early scenes -- even though a sustained performance by Belen Rueda as a distressed mother goes a long way to paper over the cracks.
Orphanage, directed by first-timer Juan Antonio Bayona and executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro, is Spain's entry for the foreign-language film Oscar. Del Toro, still riding high after "Pan's Labyrinth," has put his name behind the film, which could prove an initial boon at the boxoffice. But the Picturehouse release isn't scary enough to do much business in theaters.
Bayona mixes two styles of supernatural thriller as the moody atmosphere of 1970s films like The Omen blends with the grim bitterness of contemporary J-horror.
The story takes place in, yes, a secluded mansion. Laura (Rueda) and her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), are a pleasant middle-class couple who move into a seaside manor with their adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep). The twist is that Laura grew up in the place back when it was an orphanage. When young Simon disappears, Laura claims that he has been taken prisoner by the ghosts of the orphans. No one believes her, so she starts to investigate on her own.
Like many genre films, this one borrows at will. A plot about a child who can see dead people is obviously similar to The Sixth Sense, and the idea of everyday people coming face-to-face with evil forces reminds of "Rosemary's Baby." Some contemporary touches arise from the director's attempts to replicate the cruel frights of J-horror. But these demand a nastiness that's out of sorts with the film, thus the shocks often fail to hit home.
Rueda is the glue that holds everything together. It's a dramatic performance that rises above the constraints of genre work and gives the film an incredible lift. Production values are high, with Oscar Faura's probing cinematography a standout.
Rodar y Rodar Cine y Television and Telecini Cinema
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Screenwriter: Sergio G. Sanchez
Producers: Mar Targarona, Joaquin Padro, Alvaro Augustin
Executive producer: Guillermo del Toro
Director of photography: Oscar Faura
Art director: Josep Rosell
Music: Fernando Velasquez
Costume designer: Maria Reyes
Editor: Elena Ruiz
Laura: Belen Rueda
Carlos: Fernando Cayo
Simon: Roger Princep
Pilar: Mabel Rivera
Running time -- 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R
We've seen the spawn of Satan in such films as Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, and bad seeds have frequently tickled and terrified audiences. Child saviors haven't been as prevalent in the movies. But in The Seeker, based on the popular children's novel The Dark Is Rising, we have the story of a child chosen by the forces of light to battle evil spirits; the fate of the earth hangs in the balance. With some quasi-religious overtones, the film might have a built-in audience, though it's not going to make much of a dent in the Harry Potter franchise.
The opening cleverly thrusts us into an ultra-contemporary world of cell phones and high-tech malls where Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is not quite at home. The youngest of six sons in an American family transplanted to England, Will is not comfortable with his peers. To make matters worse, he keeps seeing flocks of ravens that want to claw his flesh. Eventually, he learns that he has a mission to save the world from dark forces that intend to wreak havoc. His nemesis is a threatening figure called the Rider (Christopher Eccleston), but he also has a group of allies known as the Old Ones who instruct him in his supernatural powers and guide him on his otherworldly quest.
Seeker is well cast with a mix of British and American actors. Ian McShane, who often is cast as a Satanic figure, here plays Will's spiritual guide, and he lends stature and dignity to the battle between good and evil. Eccleston exudes malevolent power, and he has fun playing the Rider's alter ego, a bumbling English doctor. The young actors who play Will's siblings have a natural ease on camera, and Ludwig is inherently likable, capturing the character's befuddlement as well as his innate decency.
Yet the film plods along without a lot of excitement or inspiration. There's one scary sequence with an army of snakes led by an albino cobra, but a lot of other scenes depend on elaborate CGI effects that aren't all that thrilling. Another problem is that the plot requires young Will to go through a series of trials to find the six signs that will enable him to save the world, and there simply isn't enough variety in these ordeals. The movie's one surprise twist will be pretty transparent to anyone above the age of 6.
Although the film is extremely well photographed by Joel Ransom, it fails to build a sense of mounting terror. The denouement is completely predictable, which might be satisfying to young viewers who haven't seen a lot of movies. For the rest of us, Seeker is a ho-hum exercise in mysticism and hocus-pocus.
THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING
20th Century Fox and Fox-Walden
Marc Platt Prods.
Director: David L. Cunningham
Screenwriter: John Hodge
Based on the novel by: Susan Cooper
Producer: Marc Platt
Executive producers: Ron Schmidt, Adam Siegel
Director of photography: Joel Ransom
Production designer: David Lee
Music: Christophe Beck
Costume designer: Vin Burnham
Editors: Geoffrey Rowland, Eric A. Sears
Will Stanton: Alexander Ludwig
The Rider: Christopher Eccleston
Merriman Lyon: Ian McShane
Miss Greythorne: Frances Conroy
Dawson: James Cosmo
Old George: Jim Piddock
Maggie Barnes: Amelia Warner
John Stanton: John Benjamin Hickey
Mary Stanton: Wendy Crewson
Gwen Stanton: Emma Lockhart
Max Stanton: Gregory Smith
Running time -- 99 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
Donner is set to receive a career achievement award, recognizing excellence in casting as well as overall contributions to the industry as a whole. As both director and producer, Donner has been involved in such successful movies as The Omen, Superman, Maverick and the Lethal Weapon series.
Hirschfeld will receive the Hoyt Bowers Award, honoring casting professionals who have elevated the profession by embodying the spirit and ideals of the late casting director.
Hirschfeld, executive vp casting at NBC Universal Television, oversees casting for all NBC Entertainment, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and USA Network scripted programs. Most recently, Hirschfeld has overseen the casting of such NBC series as The Office, Heroes, My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights, among others. Before joining NBC, Hirschfeld spent 12 years at Liberman/Hirschfeld Casting, which he founded with partner Meg Liberman.
Winners in 20 theatrical casting categories will be announced Nov. »
3 items from 2007
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