Stars: Mykelti Williamson, Lance Henriksen, Matthew Carey, Sunkrish Bala, Bresha Webb, Val Morrison, Matt Doherty, Eddie Perez, Tanc Sade, Lindsey Smith-Sands | Written and Directed by Craig Efros
Originally known as Hollows Grove, Orphanage: The Haunting at Hollows Grove (that’s one hell of a mouthful) was unceremoniously dumped onto DVD in the UK at the end of October – just in time for Halloween. I say dumped as this is yet another case of an interesting found-footage film (how often do I say that?!) being released with a new supermarket-friendly title and artwork. Artwork, may I add, which makes absolutely no mention that writer/director Craig Efros’s film features cameos from Lance Henriksen and Mykelti Williamson – talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face!
Enough about my supermarket-based complaints and on to the film itself. Orphanage follows a young filmmaker, Harold Maxwell, making a behind-the-scenes documentary on his friends ghost hunting reality show S.P.I.T. (Supernatural Paranormal Investigation Team). They head out to film an old, abandoned and supposedly haunted orphanage, Hollows Grove. The place has a creepy history. Before going in, the group meets with Bill (Henriksen), a special effects whiz who always rigs up their destinations with gags to insure great footage. Once in the orphanage, though, things start to happen that suggest that Bill isn’t the only one playing games on the crew in the orphanage; and that the place really is haunted…
Orphanage kicks things off with a very intriguing premise:
Opening with a disclaimer that is actually a part of the film rather than your usual “don’t pirate this movie” message, the film instantly involves the audience in proceedings as with Mykelti Williamson’s FBI agent tasks viewers with watching the found footage from Harold Maxwell’s camera and “shedding some light on the Hollows Grove incident.” It’s not often filmmakers set up their found-footage so succinctly – most times we’re introduced to the action by those involved, with no prior idea that something is ACTUALLY going to happen. With Orphanage we know there’s a reason we’re watching the footage and we know that things don’t go according to plan. After all, why would the FBI be involved otherwise? That introduction means that from the get-go the audience is on edge, further adding to this films atmosphere.
And atmosphere is something this film has in spades. Especially when Orphanage hits the one-hour mark and the sh*t hits the fan and the “fake” premise of S.P.I.T. is revealed – in this case – to be not so fake! Yes, the film does fall into Blair Witch-like trappings at that point too (the camera work goes a shaky-cam, characters resort to screaming their heads off), but by then Orphange has built up such a rapport with the audience that falling into cliche can be somewhat forgiven. Plus those fifteen minutes are filled with some superbly eerie scenes (LOVED the look of the “orphan” haunting Hollows Grove).
What also makes this film stand apart from its found-footage brethren is the use of long one shot(?) takes, which capture everything thats going on (whether its pertinent to the story or not) really giving the film a true documentary feel. Of course there are, as is the genres wont, a myriad of insane jump scares that terrify both those on-screen and those watching. It’s not like writer/director Craig Efros could stay completely away from the tropes of the FF genre could he? However Orphange‘s jump scares are, thankfully, further enhanced by some fantastic sound design. Sound design which is used to great effect throughout the film and really adds to the on-screen action – let’s just say, if you’re the type of film fan who watches via headphones or a surround sound system, prepare to have your ears violated.
Surpassing any qualms I have with the found-footage format, Orphanage: The Haunting at Hollows Grove is both a refreshing take on the format and a superb denunciation of all those paranormal investigation shows clogging up the airwaves. Seriously, don’t let that generic artwork put you off picking fantastic fear flick up!
Orphanage: The Haunting at Hollows Grove is out now on DVD from High Fliers.