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Total Crap: 17.31%

4 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Orphan (2009)
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by Erik Childress

"John and Kate Plus EVIL!"
3 stars

Movies have been trying to warn us for years that children are evil. As everything in film is supposed to carry some sort of meaning, it’s possibly their way in warning against the dangers of overpopulation. From Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed and all the tykes of Village of the Damned up to little Damian in The Omen and a Japanese horror industry that seems to be entirely dependent on the concept, these are kids that need a time out in hell. In-between the occasional resurrection of this sub-genre there have been certain unwritten rules in the movies that the imaginary characters are never told about before they get into certain scrapes. Such ideas like never partnering with Clint Eastwood or marrying Harrison Ford are about to be joined by the fact that you never have a kid with Vera Farmiga. The few people who saw the overlooked 2007 Sundance premiere, Joshua, know what I’m talking about. Her mental faculties may have gotten the better of her in that film, so can she pull it together to take on a creepy little girl? You’ll discover the answer if you see the film but may be wondering about the filmmakers’ mental acuity (and mine) well before. This is a poorly directed wannabe horror film that nevertheless contains more laughs than The Proposal, The Ugly Truth, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Land of the Lost combined. Is that a compliment? Kind of.

We meet Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) in the middle of a dream sequence that could send one or two couples out of the theater immediately. She’s reliving the nightmare of a stillbirth she had some time ago and has been able to curb her drinking for nearly a year. They have two kids that made it out just fine already – 12 year-old Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and adorable little Max (Aryana Engineer). OK, so Max’s hearing is someone still in the womb, but who doesn’t want to learn sign language? Apparently her husband, John (Peter Sarsgaard) whom I can’t remember ever signing but the bare minimum the whole film. Nevertheless, John and Kate are still six short of their television counterparts and decide to adopt a third. At an orphanage open house or garage sale, John comes upon little Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) creating some terrific paintings for her age and talking about their backstories like an old soul. Such a deal. All the cuteness of an adolescent with a little Russian accent to boot and none of the worries of adopting some dumb kid. Sold!

As Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) will announce halfway through the film though, “there’s something wrong with Esther.” Information she might have realized when unspooling her credentials to the unsuspecting couple. Not the stuff like wanting privacy in the bathroom, the Wooby-like ribbons she wears around her neck and wrists or that she’s graphically versed in the birds and the bees. No, I’m talking about all the incidents that Esther is conveniently in the area for. Those are the kinds of engine knocks I want to know about before buying my kid. Kate begins to see the signs though even while the clueless John dismisses everything. How far will Esther’s antics go before someone realizes it’s time for a trade-in? Pretty much until the wheels fall off and the engine catches on fire.

If you think I’m not taking this review seriously, you would be correct. The icky nature of the opening scene and a regular bedtime story about Max’s sister going to heaven are plenty reason to be put off early by Orphan. But then it just gets downright nutty. Esther is not exactly a case study in sociopathic subtlety. Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov could learn a thing or two about suppressing guilt from this little Russkie. And its what makes Esther such a sadistic joy to watch. Her casual frankness in what to do with evidence and employing the hear-no-but-definitely-see-some-evil Max into the service of her naughty deeds has the kind of audacity that we have to laugh at if we want to keep watching. It’s way too horrible otherwise, a fact exentuated when she threatens her new siblings with pubescence interruptus and how they play Roulette in her native country.

How anyone can suppress laughter while Farmiga looks up explanations for Esther’s behavior – an online search that consists of “Antisocial Personality Disorder”, “Character-Disturbed Children” and “Children Who Kill” – is a case study in and of itself. You may be tempted to read further into its insanity as some satire of a medical industry giving up on figuring out why kids act the way they do or as a knowing wink to all the Octomoms and reality show parenting out there. John’s past infidelity in the film has to be the happiest of all coincidental links to the Gosselins. Clearly someone read David Johnson’s screenplay when they decided to sign on. (Even Leonardo DiCaprio is listed as one of its many producers.) Did they think they were making a comedy? If not then the ability of all the actors involved in being able to keep a straight face is all the more impressive. Although a late drunken breakdown by Sarsgaard will either go down as his most embarrassing or crowning screen moment.

What is a bit embarrassing is the direction by Jaume Collet-Serra, whose previous credits consist of the 2005 House of Wax remake with Paris Hilton and Goal II: Living the Dream. Despite the sillier elements of the film (that admittedly take up ¾ of the film) there is some real potential for genuine suspense and scares that he just can’t deliver on. He uses the ol’ mirror/blocked view gag and bats 1-for-3 with it. Twice he lamely does a quick pan towards unsuspecting characters only for them to turn around and find nothing. We keep waiting for the moment when Max’s hearing aid will be taken away and when it finally is, not only is the potential to create an entirely silent set piece lost but he does absolutely zero with it other than to establish that the five year-old going to bed isn’t going to come downstairs. There’s a playground sequence (that is the unofficial turning point into outright comedy) where Serra focuses on the terror of a girl on a jungle gym, who up to this point has been Esther’s tormentor and all of a sudden is frightened because she got a dirty look? The sheer effort on Serra’s part to create some sort of isolation for this girl as she looks around for Esther during a more-than-populated recess is instantly comical as much as his climax in darkness and water is poorly conceived.

Hence the dilemma in whether or not to recommend Orphan to audiences. It’s an easy positive for anyone looking for an MST3K experience that doesn’t even need the running commentary. But a certain negative for those unable to see the humor in Esther’s sadistic acts. Bear in mind this is a nasty little film with scenes of wince-inducing violence, bone cracks and enough common ground depravity to reconcile Michael & Joe Jackson. The film’s ultimate revelation about Esther’s past certainly doesn’t forgive her behavior but does reconcile our ghastly perception of what we’ve been seeing for the first 100 minutes. And Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance binges on legendary status in this genre; so good that she’s liable to be one of the few creepy kid debuts that actually went on to bigger and more versatile roles. Orphan will likely put off more people than it will envelop in its seemingly unintended hilarity. You just have to figure out what camp you are in and go with it. If you’re in the one that endlessly watches the Nicolas Cage Wicker Man compilation on YouTube, than Orphan is definitely the movie for you.

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originally posted: 07/24/09 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/17 danR I don't watch much horror, usually not very horrifying; this one is really creepy. 5 stars
3/13/17 morris campbell not bad cool twist 4 stars
8/12/11 jiropan worth a look...although have a flaws 4 stars
4/20/10 art tHIS WAS a rip-off of a 1980 brit thriller called"THE GODSEND", REGARDLESS this was GREAT! 4 stars
1/01/10 scotty I actually think this is one of the best horror films of the year! 5 stars
12/30/09 Corky If you can totally suspend your disbelief for 95 minutes, this one's for you! Otherwise,meh 3 stars
12/29/09 art this child is a DARK-HAIRED VERISON OF THE BAD SEED!,an effective thriller! 4 stars
11/19/09 Dr.Lao Cliched premise with a laugh out loud ridiculous "swerve" 1 stars
11/09/09 mr.mike It's good so i can forgive a few detours. 4 stars
11/08/09 EZ not bad...worth a look...good twist... 4 stars
11/02/09 Abhishek Chakraborty I don't even want to see it again. Very uncomfortable to watch.But definately seeing once. 4 stars
11/01/09 matt Fuhrman's brilliant performance and a great twist make this a modern classic 5 stars
10/30/09 Ron I felt it was the female version of (The Good Son), which was a good movie also 4 stars
10/28/09 action movie fan bad seed type evil child in original scary shocker-surprise ending 4 stars
9/15/09 orphan genius.. 5 stars
8/11/09 Jerome C. Awesomely sick, Gruesomely supensful, Actually good? 5 stars
8/07/09 naaeema Loved it!!!! 5 stars
8/04/09 TLCS Not scary. Not entertaining. Completely illogical and ridiculous. Don't waste money. 1 stars
8/03/09 David A. A thinking person's horror film--in some ways, you empathize with Esther. 4 stars
8/03/09 Lisa I agree - definite midnight movie material! 5 stars
8/02/09 Waffa Margus So was she from russia or from Estonia? Was she rusian or Estonian? How someone can mix up? 4 stars
8/02/09 Ming One of the best horror film..The little girl will surprise and suck u dry 4 stars
8/01/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Less contrived than most of this contrived genre 4 stars
7/31/09 Carolyn Williams It keep my attention, for a scary movie it was action packed! 4 stars
7/30/09 Tony unnerving shockfest...and sick 5 stars
7/29/09 clayton mavie was pretty sick 4 stars
7/25/09 Isaac scary 3 stars
7/25/09 Jimmy Zatoichi! 1 stars
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  24-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 27-Oct-2009


  DVD: 27-Oct-2009

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