Orphan – Review


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Notable Cast: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Furhman, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer, CCH Pounder

Orphan is not a horror movie. Well, not the traditional kind. More like a psychological thriller sans the psychology. It opens on a dream sequence of gross proportions. Nothing says stomach-churning like seeing a mother give birth to a bloody stillborn. That’s the first jolt of the film; the others are plainly obvious, served over the course of a two-hour run time. The director, Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax remake), incorporates false “boo” moments to supposedly keep the audience on its toes. But some of these are inconsequential: The first is proved false, so when it is actualized (Hey kids, it’s Peter Sarsgaard’s mirrored reflection!) it’s pointless. This shows early signs of desperation and we aren’t even ten minutes into the movie.

Suspense begets violence begets the act of pedophilia begets even more violence. Orphan incorporates rinse-and-repeat repetition thrills in rehashing a litany of “bad seed” movies. At two hours it plods along so pedestrian that by the time it gets to the twist – an overused plot device neutering much of horror these days – you can only help but smirk. The shock isn’t all that shocking once you reexamine it after exiting the theater.

Couple Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) have since come to grips after the stillborn death of their last baby, and they are ready to adopt a child to add to a family that already includes son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and daughter Max (Aryana Engineer). Visiting a nearby orphanage, John and Kate take a shine to Esther (Isabelle Furhman), a gifted if not precocious nine-year-old Russian girl. Not even bothering to shop around and look at other children in the orphanage, the couple adopts Esther in record time. Three weeks: from the first meeting until the paperwork is finalized. Suspension of disbelief is a given when dealing with movies, but a complete adoption in twenty-one days is just too crazy to fathom.

Esther is welcomed into the family with a cold shoulder, not open arms, from Daniel, who sees Esther’s behavior and style of dress as someone who can ruin his status among his peers at school. Max is more enthusiastic. Esther maintains her delight during the initial period of family bonding. She shows an interest in Kate’s piano playing, learns sign language to communicate with Max and bonds with John as it pertains to art. However, bad things happen after Esther starts being picked on at school. New mother Kate starts to sense Esther’s inner evil, but John has his doubts. He refers to her bouts of alcoholism in dealing with a traumatic event that left Max without the ability to hear. But when the “accidents” intensify and people go missing, Kate is sure Esther is the one behind it all. Her problem is convincing those who have been charmed by Esther’s perceptive ways.

Orphan is like most of its horror brethren: too one-dimensional. It sticks what has worked in the past, but doesn’t differentiate itself when the opportunity arises. There are heightened possibilities of where the story could have gone, and the B-grade horror plays off of Esther’s wicked ways.

The moment the trailer premiered some months ago it was obvious that Orphan was to have a similar tone to 2007’s Joshua. But the public bypassed that movie and instead flocked to the opening of Transformers. Even the presence of Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga couldn’t dissuade a throng of Autobot worshipers. Wait, hold the phone – a pattern is forming. Same basic premise (minus the twist), same mother, only this time it’s a nine-year-old daughter raising hell.

Isabelle Furhman, all things considered, is a diabolical delight as the pigtailed and freckled antagonist. She’s like Chucky, only without the red hair and pull-string. Yet Furhman and Farmiga are hamstringed in their actions by a shoddy script. The actions that do occur are bizarre and nonsensical, both of which comes with the territory. Peter Sarsgaard is just sort of milling about as the father in the background until the end when he becomes important to the story.

Built on the notion that “you’ll never guess her secret,” when the secret is revealed you do a double take and realize that even the twists nowadays lack the cleverness. Now if the twist was the ghost of Chubby Checker doing a rendition of his classic song, that truly would be a surprise.

Orphan, the second scarefest of the summer, lacks Drag Me to Hell‘s tongue-in-cheek humor or the thrill of the kill. Even the kick-ass one-liner at the finale is a resounding dud. If only Max wasn’t deaf and could speak. How great it would have been to hear her say, “kill her mommy, kill her.”


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