Written by Sergio G. Sánchez, El Orfanato (aka The Orphanage) was the directorial debut of J.A. Bayona.
The Spanish horror begins in the year 1975 where we see a young Spanish girl named Laura being adopted. Years later, adult Laura (Belén Rueda) returns to the closed orphanage, accompanied by her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their seven-year-old son, Simón (Roger Príncep). Laura has big plans to reopen the orphanage as a facility for disabled children.
As they get used to the building Simón starts to talk about a new friend he has made – a boy named Tomás. Simón begins to draw pictures of Tomás wearing a sack mask.
Social worker Benigna Escobedo (Montserrat Carulla) visits the house to inquire after Simón, and the audience learn that Laura and Carlos adopted Simón and that he is HIV positive. Incensed at Benigna’s intrusion, Laura asks her to leave. Later that night Laura finds Benigna in the orphanage’s coal shed, but Benigna flees the scene.
Later, Simón teaches Laura a game which grants its winner a wish. Clues lead the two to Simón’s adoption file. Simón becomes angry, and says that Tomás told him that Laura is not his biological mother and that he is going to die soon.
During a party for the orphanage’s opening, Laura and Simón argue, and Simón hides from her. While looking for him, she encounters a child wearing a sack mask who shoves her into a bathroom and locks her inside. When Laura escapes, she realizes that Simón is missing and is unable to find him…