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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15.38%
Worth A Look28.85%
Average: 26.92%
Pretty Bad: 11.54%
Total Crap: 17.31%

4 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Orphan (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"At least, by the end, not just adoption groups will feel offended."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I guessed what "Orphan" was heading toward pretty early in the film, but dismissed it. Plot-wise, it was perhaps the best way to connect all the dots, but director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn't seem to be making that kind of movie early on. So the film becomes something of an odd mish-mash - the plot details fit together, and there's some pretty strong early character work, but it doesn't feel like the movie knows what it wants to be.

Maybe the opening should have served as a hint; it's a surreal nightmare of a hospital visit, leading into Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) discussing the plans she and husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) have to adopt with her therapist (Margo Martindale). Nine-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) makes an immediate connection with the pair at the orphanage, and Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) informs them that though something of a loner (and eccentric in dress), she's bright and very mature for her age. She soon joins the Colemans' other children - slightly older Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and younger, deaf, and adoring Max (Aryana Engineer). Some of what she does sets off warning bells in Kate, though Kate's got a few skeletons in her own closet.

Early on, Orphan seems like an unusually smart and sympathetic take on the evil child genre. Esther is a little odd, sure, but the film plays it as the logical extension of the fear and paranoia that any adopted child must feel - especially one on their second family, after the first had died in a fire. The early stages of the movie play like a fine set-up for miscommunication leading to tragedy, and Collet-Serra does a fine job of playing on the audience's emotions there.

As the film goes on, though, the screenplay by David Johnson just heaps more and more on, heading in the general direction of Esther not only being a sociopath, but a genius prodigy of a sociopath. Once everything is laid bare, what we wind up with is not only more of a gimmick than an emotional story, but one filled with unnecessary details that seem like they'd serve little purpose other than to trip things up. The timeline also seems to make little sense - despite Kate's history, Esther probably shouldn't be able to undermine her so quickly; and yet, if the movie is playing out over weeks rather than days, Kate and John (and the orphanage) must be even less observant and diligent than the movie gives them credit for.

Too bad, because the film shows plenty of early promise. The cast feels like a genuine family unit, and Collet-Serra does well directing children. Fuhrman is particularly impressive - and she really has to be; the entire movie would collapse very early on if we didn't believe in her - and I did really like the way she plays off Aryana Engineer. It's not a great silent role, but it is a good one. Farmiga and Sarsgaard play off each other well enough in the beginning that the hoops that the script put them through in the end look all the more strained.

As ridiculous as the story becomes, Collet-Serra does, for the most part, get the scares right. A lot of them are sort of gimmes - a nine-year-old doing something awful and out of character is going to freak the audience out, but he also manages to get some mileage out of Esther's creepy ability to appear almost any place silently. He's got a bit of a tendency to overdo it when the time for violence comes, though: Hitting someone with a hammer once is shocking, a couple more times is a good indicator of how messed up someone is, but it reaches a point of diminishing returns soon after, but Collet-Serra will generally keep pounding away.

Fitting, that - this really is a movie that will just keep adding more on until the original, well-earned shocks have almost been forgotten.

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originally posted: 07/24/09 02:16:37
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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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