A family is on the mends after suffering the mental anguish of a stillborn baby. After coming through the event a bit battle scarred, Kate and John Coleman decide that it is time for them to devote the love they were to give the daughter that died in the womb, to another little girl who they feel deserves it. After shopping around the local orphanage, they settle on a strange little girl named Esther. Polite, articulate, and extremely mature for her age – Esther is different from her peers and the couple feel she would fit in perfect with them and their two kids. But quicker than you can say The Good Son, Esther’s true colors begin to show as she begins acting out a devious plan, a plan that begins with the dismantling of her new family.
As many of you know by now, the “killer kid” genre of horror flick really gets my blood pumping to all the right places. So it was with a little excitement I went to see Orphan, hoping that there may be a chance of me seeing yet another killer kid film to mention alongside Who Can Kill A Child? and The Children. I wasn’t actually expecting it be as good as those two films, even though it definitely seemed to have all the ingredients I look for; creepy kid, clueless adults, and my favorite environment in a horror film – snow. In regards to Esther, played to the creepy hilt by Isabelle Fuhrman, I was not let down. Esther is a ruthless and delightfully cold-hearted girl, it’s just too bad she had to star in this film.
The problem comes directly from the stupidity of all the adults around her. When it comes to kids killing people in film, it is standard to have the adults not wanting to believe what is happening – to not jump directly to the conclusion that their sweet 9-year-old daughter is running amok intentionally pushing her peers off of playground equipment. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. In Orphan, Jaume Collet-Serra (Waxworks) sticks with the wrong way – following David Johnson and Alex Mace’s story that simply populates the film with adults who are borderline retarded.
No matter what Esther says, or who gets hurt, no matter how many paths of blame lead straight to Esther, no one can believe she is the culprit. The couple’s two children are the first to see Esther for what she is but can be forgiven for not doing anything about it. Kids are dumb and easily manipulated. But the adults, in particular Kate’s (Vera Farmiga) husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) is so goddamn dumb it was almost infuriating. Throughout the movie, he continues to shove his big, dumb head is so far up his own ass, that it eventually pops back out of his big, dumb neck.
But he isn’t the only braindead character in the film – just one of the worst. Others include the mother-in-law, the orphanage, the head nun that oversees Esther’s adoption and even the cops. All having the mentality slightly above a log. Even when Kate does catch on, she consistently makes decisions and performs actions that do more to hurt the family than it does to protect them, all leading to the “twist” most people figured out watching the trailer and a finale that was disappointing in not only its execution but for also using a tired, unimaginative cliche often employed in films like this. A cliche that’s like the villains they are used on. Neither knowing when to die.
So now that you know all that I felt Orphan did wrong, is there anything I would recommend? Sure. Again, Isabelle Fuhrman, does a great job. Any scenes she is in are pretty good. She comes off as genuinely charming and equally creepy. When she turns sinister, it is fairly believable. When abandoning manipulation and deciding to attack, whether that attack be mental or physical, Esther doesn’t play any games. She goes right for the throat. There were some ripples of nervous laughter from the audience I was with in response to some of her actions. While Orphan never pushes the boundaries of its R rating, it does earn it. From a pretty disturbing child birth scene at the beginning, to some of Esther’s extra-curricular activities that included holding a box cutter to a boys dick, a fairly violent hammer attack, and a scene ripped from the fantasies of pedophiles everywhere – the attempted seduction of a grown man.
Unfortunately, Orphan is never violent or gory enough for anyone looking for that type of thing, and the story, along with the characters, are too dumb for the movie to be an effective psychological thriller. So while Orphan may not have been the film I was hoping it to be, the character of Esther was. She may have been waiting for a family as stupid as the Coleman’s, but I wish I could have seen her work her expert manipulative skills on a tad smarter group of adults. I think that would have made for a much more effective film. There is a point late in the Orphan when an exasperated Kate tells her husband that she is tired of connecting all the dots for him, and by that time, so was I.
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