I watched it last night expecting terror, and there was a bit, but there was really very little in it to warrant its R rating (a bit of gore? a brief bout of cursing?) and most of the scares lay in extreme dread and suspense. Ultimately, I mostly came away from it overflowing with a sense of "My emotions! My! Emotions!" To the point where I turned around and watched it again with Mom today, and loved it even more / felt even more emotions. Because, as they say in one of the special features -- it's a horror movie, but it's not really a horror movie. And much like they say in Crimson Peak, it's not a ghost story, it's a story with
(Also it did not hurt at all that the lead actress had hair and facial features incredibly remniscient of my beloved Rachelle LeFevre, and I kept shadow-duplicating it in my head)
I adored it from the opening scene (uno, dos, tres, toca la pared! so musical), happy children playing on the beautiful grounds of an even more beautiful house, which immediately bucks all known orphanage trends by being a place full of warm memories and friendships. It looks like it's 40 or 50 years earlier than the 60s in which it is supposedly set, but that's the only qualm. I stayed enraptured as soon as we were introduced to basically the cutest scamp of a curly-haired male child I have ever seen.
And from that point on, there is just an endless stream of beautiful architectural details, fascinating new thing about the decor and design (oh look the house comes complete with a chapel!), and of course: a spooky ghost child in a terrifying scarecrow-face-painted hood/mask. But there's also a developing story about the family here, the devotion of the parents to their adopted son -- because of course Laura chose to adopt, and of course she adopted a special-needs (HIV+) child -- and, in a rare and pleasant move for a film like this, a strong display of love between the spouses.
Like, husband did not do much for in the face department, but he sure does not miss any opportunity to be supportive (even at the point when he's despairing of her sanity and conflict arises from him trying to pull her back toward reason), cuddly and affectionate. There are so many hugs and sweet little kisses in this film.
SIDEBAR: on a shallow note, Laura has the absolute best wardrobe. That heavy belted knee-length cardigan? My band teacher in 2001-2002 had one like that, even the same shade, and wore it all the time. I didn't really care about clothes then but I always admired it, and to this day I think about it and how much I still want one. The long white dress at the party? With or without the shorter cardigan over it? Looked amazing on her. Even the darker, heavier sweater she wears near the end that seems mostly utilitarian and also kind of symbolic of her physical grief manages to be appealing by way of conveying enveloping coziness.
The point at which I knew this movie was defying convention -- mostly by being Spanish produced and thereby free of expectations for the feel-good trajectory Americans are used to -- was when the kid disappeared in the first half of the movie, and then it abruptly jumped to "six months later" with him still missing. How the heck?! Isn't this movie supposed to be about how the ghosts have temporarily transported him into another dimension, or something, and now she has to follow / yell at / trick the ghosts that appear at night to haunt her until she tracks him down? How can you fix things if it's already been six months? Are...are we going to go back in time? Is the current reality a dream? These are the kind of assumptions you make in American film.
But it just keeps getting better. (well, that's a lie. It gets boring for a while when they call in a medium; that is a reeeeeally long and pretty dull sequence -- I personally would have cut out the entire scene where she first tracks that big guy down and asks about finding a medium -- but it does ultimately get us to a pretty good clue about the other five child-ghosts, so that part is worth it)
ACTUAL SPOILERS, AND NOTHING BUT SPOILERS, BELOW
[spoiler cut for your convenience! at some point it just becomes a recap of the entire ending]Everything with Benigna was so well done, from her creepy batty-old-lady first appearance, to her unintentionally comical appearance in the coal shed and subsequent rabbit flee, to her shocking reappearance, more shocking death, gruesomely mangled face (just when you think you're safe and they won't show the body...BAM!), to the ultimate "she worked in the orphanage? she had a kid?? and that kid was Scarecrow Face? because of facial deformities? and also WHAT THE **** BENIGNA. COLD HEARTED BITCH REVENGE-MURDERING CHILDREN FOR TEASING HER SON IN A WAY THAT LED TO HIS ACCIDENTAL DEATH" reveal of what her deal was.
The sacks full of cremains, with various identifiable children's bones and handicapped equipment...oh, that was chilling. But not as chilling as her haunted realization, "all my friends." OMGWTFPOLARBEAR?!?!?
(And herein lies my biggest question about the film: was Laura ever told her friends were gone? Was there not a major investigation when five children suddenly went missing? I'm assuming they went missing since that was clearly not a sanctioned place to leave the remains, Or was there, and is that why the orphanage closed down? Shouldn't Laura have known more about the history of the place after she left? We just never really got an answer as to how she was able to buy the place other than "it closed," and I just...I have so many questions.)
I got chills when she sent her husband away and set about recreating the way the place looked in the old films, complete with wearing the old outfit. I was literally peeking through my fingers when she lured them out by recreating the childhood game from the opening scene, now suddenly feeling much more sinister (even though it wasn't. That's the wildest part in all of these, the children seem SO CREEPY -- especially Tomas; what was with locking her in the bathroom and smashing her fingers in the door jamb? Still don't get that -- but ultimately, they really are just...children).
And then the biggest reveals started, and my jaw just kept dropping lower:
(SIDEBAR AGAIN BECAUSE RELEVANT: I forgot to mention how much I loved both of the "treasure hunts," racing to connect the clues from one hidden object back to another. What a good plot point from the beginning).
The door where the knob fits.
The secret staircase hidden below the cupboard under the stairs, leading to the secret cellar...or "Tomas' little house."
The mystifying "surprise! here he was all along, cold but perfectly fine in the cellar" sequence, at which point I was incredibly confused as to what had happened. "So he was in another dimension all along and just popped back?"
The sudden extinguishing of light, and Simon disappearing from her arms, leaving only an empty blanket. "So...that was all just an illusion? A hallucination in her grief?"
And turning to see the limp little form on the floor, wearing the terrifying mask -- a mask which is no longer the worst part of any of this -- as we lead to Revealing Flashbacks of Significance.
"THE PILLARS IN THE CUPBOARD UNDER THE STAIRS!!" I actually got a sense that they seemed significant at the time, but then she shut the door and left, and I forgot about it.
But that was it -- that was the awful moment she sealed her own son into an unknown tomb. And the crash that night -- not a ghost at all, but a very real and fatal fall through a broken railing where he was trapped. All those months of searching and hoping and wishing, and he was always right there underneath them, and always gone.
(I stayed dry-eyed the first time, but the second time...oh man. I started crying here, for sure. "But I found you." *SOB*)
This is the point at which I knew my mom was going to be mad about being robbed of a happy ending, but THIS IS THE THING, the thing that makes this movie so brilliant. Watching her take her own life, not just out of grief, but immense guilt at the part she played in losing him, however unintentional, was the best kind of emotional sucker punch. What are you willing to do to find him again, indeed.
BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE. Because when all the ghosts of her former friends cautiously grew closer, recognizing in delight that "it's Laura!" -- but old! Like Wendy in Peter Pan, as was alluded to early in the movie! -- I frickin' lost it. nonstop "it's so beautiful" bawling. Stay and take care of them, Laura!
AND THERE IS STILL MORE, because between the beautiful memorial, and husband's return back to the house and a sign from beyond in finding the necklace, lost in the floorboards when she tore it off in her last moments -- see, see, she found Simon, so now she can give it back to him! -- oh my gosh. These are the happiest tears I have ever cried at an inarguably bittersweet ending.
I mean, poor husband having to lose them both, but you couldn't have a completely happy ending either way. Once Simon was gone, she was never going to find peace until her dying day. At least he can mourn and move on. And because it's a movie, I don't have to be all "but suicide, that thing God does not tolerate;" I get to believe in the world where that gets her happy ghost peace for all eternity, exactly where she wants to be.
Next writing goal: The Brave. I really wanted to start w/ that, but this movie would NOT let me go.