July 26, 2009
Review - " Orphan " - (in Theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed By Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jimmy
Bennet, Margo Martindale, Aryana Engineer
Orphan is being marketed as a horror movie, but that's misdirection.
It's more of a "psychological" thriller in the "evil amongst us" mode,
about a group of people who inadvertently admit a psychopath into
their midst. Think The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, except this time
the wacko is a little girl instead of a nanny.
Bottom Line: A gimmicky though effective horror film about a
prodigiously evil adopted child. The very bad seed in "Orphan," a
Dark Castle offering awash in red stuff and implausibility, is a
9-year-old girl with chronic homicidal urges and a Russian accent.
A young orphan with nothing more than chaos and murder on her
mind couldn't pick a better family to adopt her than the Colemans.
Kate (the considerably talented Vera Farmiga) is a reformed drunk no
Husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) has a roving eye where women are
concerned and blindness to the point of folly when it comes to
recognizing that a demon is in their midst. The family shrink couldn't
diagnose an Oedipus complex in Oedipus. The son (Jimmy Bennett)
might share his mother's growing unease over his new sister but is too
much of a whimp to do anything but sulk. The newly adopted big sis
showers youngest daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), with attention
and affection. Little Max (short for Maxine we assume?) is deaf from
birth but immediately attaches herself to her new older sister.
The predictable incidents that ensue might have been made intriguing had writer played better with notions of guilt and
blame, which are exploited only to keep the obtuse husband in the dark. A little ambiguity might have done wonders.
"I guess I'm different," warns Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) when she meets her potential adoptive family. Esther apparently was
born in Russia, lost her first adoptive American family to a mysterious fire only she survived, her records in the old country
can't be found and bad things happen whenever she is around. But none of this is different enough for a family with an
unexamined desperation for adoption following the tragic stillbirth of their third child.
For Farmiga, this is a meaty role. For Sarsgaard, you can only hope this film paid him well because there is no other reason
to tackle such an unforgivingly dull and obtuse character.
Furhman plays pure evil with such supreme calmness that only her eyes shine with madness. Indeed, all of the child actors
are superb, especially the expressive Engineer.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra ("House of Wax") displays a basic mistrust in the material by filling scenes with abrupt noises,
visual shocks and sharp music cues even before Esther arrives. The production has enough of a professional sheen -- the
film uses the frigid cold of its Eastern Canadian locations to good advantage -- to hold audience attention until the bloody
showdown between Esther and the overwhelmed family.
As horror films go this one is actually fairly intriguing. To my surprise, this film is actually somewhat cleverly-constructed
& tension-building as "accidents" keep happening to people involved with the various family members. The tagline is
"There's something wrong with Esther." Actually, there's LOTS wrong with her but, thanks to the acting & directing, there's a
lot more "right" with this movie than you would expect. However It's really only recommended for those who like phsycological