“The Orphanage” is 33-year-old director Juan Antonio Bayona’s first feature film, and while it’s a striking enough film in and of itself, certainly the presence of Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) in the role of producer helped the film get the attention it deserved. Dressed in standard directorial black, the diminutive filmmaker discussed his career and the art of fright.
I don’t mean to be rude, but your film doesn’t look much like it was made by a music-video director.
(Laughs.) Yeah, but people always accuse my music videos of not looking like music videos; they look like movies. It’s an interesting challenge to try and tell a story without using dialogue, which is what you have to do in a music video.
In a music video, cutting to the rhythm is quite important, and it seems it’s like that with horror too — the rhythm is crucial.
Using music on the set is very helpful, that puts not just the actors, but the whole crew, in a mood. But even without music, you know? There are movies where I can tell they were edited to music, even if they’re not using the music in the finished film. The Coen brothers often do this — you can feel their sense of rhythm.
There’s a great scene where these children are running past Laura in the house, laughing, but then they go downstairs and it suddenly gets quiet, and this long hallway becomes quite ominous . . .
And then she discovers Tomas, and he traps her in the bathroom. And then you can hear laughing again. And you don’t know if this laughter is from the ghost or from the kids you saw before. That’s what we were trying to do, to tell two stories at the same time. A real one, of a woman losing her mind, and an unreal one, the ghost story.
Name a film that you consider really scary.
Hmmm . . . in the end, it’s about what scares you, not whether the sequence was well done, or if there’s a good “jump” moment. Francois Truffaut used to say that movies are a combination of what you’ve lived, what you’d like to live and what you’re afraid of living. So I think horror movies work on that level. But if you asked me to be specific, I’d probably say some Polanski movie like “The Tenant” or “Rosemary’s Baby.” I also love “Don’t Look Now” and “The Wicker Man,” those weird movies from the ’70s.
Your film seems quite opposed to modern
horror movies . . .
I’m not interested in gore, really, unless the director is really talented. I could enjoy Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies, or Peter Jackson’s “Braindead.” They have a sense of humor. I can also appreciate gore if it’s used with a sense of restraint, like Paul Verhoeven used to. Not too much. The audience has room to anticipate it, and that tension is important. But gore itself doesn’t necessarily make you scared, just like lots of special effects don’t necessarily make a fantasy.
Is it hard to tell how scary a scene is going to turn out when you’re on set shooting it?
We knew we were doing a scary movie, but we never realized it was going to be that scary. I remember the first time we presented the movie was at Cannes; there was this moment near the end where someone left the theater and he banged the door on his way out, and people just screamed, thinking it was part of the movie. That’s when I first realized, “Oh my God, these people are really f-cking scared right now! (Laughs.)