Juan Bayona presents us with a ghost story that challenges our sense of reality by blurring the line between objective truth and subjective experience. Thirty years after being adopted from the “Good Shepherd Orphanage”, Laura Sanchez returns with her husband Carlos and young son Simon. She intends to buy the mouldering old building, long since abandoned, and turn it into a group home for children with special needs. One day however, after exploring a seaside cave, Simon claims to have met a new friend hiding in the shadows. This is hardly surprising as the overly inventive child already has two imaginary playmates; but when he invites “Tomas” home with him things start going bump in the night, doors mysteriously slam shut, and Simon ultimately disappears without a trace. Bayona realizes that children and adults inhabit very different realities and that adults will often indulge a child’s magical view of the world with little white lies and fanciful stories designed to shield them from some of life’s harsher lessons. But sometimes make-believe can backfire and an innocent game can develop ominous overtones... This film packs some very well-placed jolts aided by creepy camerawork and unsettling sound effects. It has an air of gothic horror about it that is truly chilling. Regrettably, Bayona asks us to take some pretty large leaps of faith: an elaborate game of dress-up towards the end seems like overkill; a scene involving psychic researchers recalls the excesses of Poltergeist ; and the dark secret at the heart of the film, involving a myopic nanny and sinister flour sacks, has too many holes in it to be effective. All the clues do add up in the end, but the Peter Pan finale left me feeling vaguely cheated.

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