Monday, 24 March 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles (Thanet Extra, March 21st 2008)

Fantasy fatigue is understandable at this point. We’re over Lord of the Rings (unless you’re ready for Hobbits-in-a-musical). We’re in between Narnia adventures and the Golden Compass left most people wondering: where on Earth did Daniel Craig disappear to?

So a heavy heart could be forgiven when dancing sprites appear in The Spiderwick Chronicles, based on a popular series of Children’s books. The Grace family, mum Helen (Mary-Louise Parker), identical twins Jared/Simon (both Freddie Highmore) and teenage Mallory (Sarah Bolger), leave New York and relocate to a dusty old relic of a house; the Spiderwick Estate.

Now this old house so happens to be surrounded by an enchanted forest, a fact recorded in a dusty tome, a sort of Wisden’s of supernatural beasties, penned by the venerable (and presumed dead) Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). When the twins discover this entry point to the faerie world, they uncover a conflict and’ll have to go to find out more.

It is refreshing to be able to recommend a children’s adventure so wholeheartedly. There is an innocence and charm to Spiderwick that is not held back by too much plot or endless questing. The special effects are impressive and for younger children the tone of the movie is pitched well, hinting at darkness and but never too tough (over 13 year olds may get bored though). Freddie Highmore is likeable playing both the twins (one straight-laced, the other more cavalier) and even Martin Short (as a CGI sprite) isn’t too irritating. Casting the silky-voiced character actor, Strathairn (Good night, and Good luck) as Arthur Spiderwick was a wise choice: he gives any movie an extra touch of class. Overall, this is a first rate children’s film for Easter, just about right for young boys or girls, needing a well-told slice of movie magic.

The Orphanage

For older children (over about 23), The Orphanage centres on Laura (Belén Rueda) who purchases the orphanage she spent her childhood in with the view to reopening the long abandoned facility as a care-home for disabled kids. Once there, Laura discovers that the new environment fires her son’s imagination, but the ongoing fantasy games he plays with an invisible friend quickly turn into something more threatening. After a creepy and disquieting set of events, her son goes missing and she enlists the help of a group of parapsychologists to help unravel a dreadful curse in the building. The above hasn’t done justice to this simply superb psychological horror. This Spanish language thriller (produced by Guillermo Del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth) is a terrifically paced yarn, with chilling moments and a masterful story arc. Try not to miss it.

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