THE ORPHAN Review - Mania.com



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  • Movie: The Orphan
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.
  • Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer and Margo Martindale
  • Written By: David Johnson
  • Directed By: Alex Mace
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Series:

THE ORPHAN Review

What's the Return Policy on Evil Children?

By Rob Vaux     July 23, 2009


Mania Review of THE ORPHAN(2009).
© Robert Trate

 

Just because Orphan is relentlessly bad doesn't mean it's not entertaining. The final half-hour, in particular, is so chock-full of loony toons campiness that all but the most heartless filmgoer would be hard-pressed to suppress his giggles. It dives completely into its ridiculous extremities without a second thought, prompting one to embrace it solely to see what staggering piece of goofiness it comes up with next. That makes for quite a ride--great fun if you're of the right mind--though don't expect anything approaching legitimate scares.
 
The difficulty on that front stems from its chosen sub-genre: the evil child movie. Evil children suffer from a number of logistical narrative problems, notably 1) their arms are too short; 2) they generally lack the proper anatomical knowledge to find the best stabby parts of the human body; 3) the success of their fiendish schemes depends largely upon the adults around them acting like blithering idiots. The grown-ups in Orphan happily oblige the latter point, as upscale Connecticut couple Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) adopt a seemingly sweet little Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Of course, she isn't as sweet as she appears, which they might have known had they done a basic background check, quizzed the nun in charge (CCH Pounder) a little bit, or taken any of the intelligent, rational steps most normal people would have done in similar circumstances. But then there would be no movie, and we would have missed Esther's delightful array of creepy paintings, psychotic head games, and eventual homicidal lunacy.
 
To be fair, Orphan understands the psychological basis for all the fears Esther represents. The Colemans have fissures in their relationship--a miscarriage, a bout with alcoholism, a few dollops of marital infidelity--which their adopted child both exemplifies and exploits. What parent hasn't felt guilty about taking a little time for him- or herself? What parent hasn't had that horrifying moment when he just wants to pound a misbehaving child unconscious? Director Jaume Collet-Serra grasps the dynamic very well, and uses it to provide an interesting support network for Esther's wickedness. Fuhrman aids him with a polished, creepy performance that grounds her villainy in something resembling reality. (Credit Orphan, too, for staying away from the Doomed Pet cliché--slaughtering a pussy cat or golden retriever as a means of demonstrating the antagonist's instability--which most films of this ilk unfold with gleeful relish.)
 
Orphan's assets, however, prove powerless against the sheer overwhelming ridiculousness of the third act. Esther's reign of terror depends solely on people refusing to acknowledge that she may capable of dreadful things--in the face of all evidence and in some cases despite the fact that she's clearly trying to kill them. As the plot grows more and more preposterous, Collet-Serra turns to pulp shock tactics, which create an appreciable reaction but divorce the piece from the complexities it initially endeavored to develop. Esther's imaginative use of black-light paints, her adoptive parents' confused reactions and the final "shocking" secret about her past owe far more to Baby Jane than The Omen, and while the local police provide the expected levels of horror movie incompetence, there's such a sheer preponderance of evidence before them that to let Esther continue running around becomes a joke in and of itself. By the time she vamps out in a Wee Whore of Beverly Hills dress and starts putting the Lolita whammy on John, the film has clearly left the rails.
 
Again, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, provided you can find entertainment value in it. Horror fans with an eye for the ludicrous are apt to have a blast, while the undemanding can simply enjoy the periodic boo-gotcha jolts. But none of that comes with an accompanying respect for the film itself. We laugh at it, not with it, despite its earnest efforts to make its scenario work. The dog days of August are filled with similarly guilty movie pleasures; Orphan just starts the party a little early. You take your fun where you can find it this time of year, a fact for which this particular bit of silliness should be extremely grateful.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 13
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SgtTechCom 7/23/2009 5:35:29 AM

O look it's the omen but with a girl lol..........snooze!

Darkknight2280 7/23/2009 9:22:30 AM

Well i feel sorry for that little girl. Not only is she going to be in a movie that will bomb, But she looks like a total bitch and shes not even a teenager yet. Sure shes evil in the movie but that doesnt mean they put makeup on her to look like an evil bitch. I will not see this movie based on that fact..thank you.

lister 7/23/2009 12:03:44 PM

I read the spoiler for the twist to this movie and it's so freaking ridiculously unbelievable that I have to imagine it's more entertaining than the movie itself.

invisioner 7/23/2009 12:06:30 PM

 Kate and John? Coincidence? I think not...

 

 

Anyone else think the kid looks like little Lohan?

krathwardroid 7/23/2009 7:05:20 PM

invisioner: I assume you are referring to Kate and John Connor? They might be playing off the success of Terminator Salvation. :P

Anyone remember the movie The Good Son? Tell me how much that film helped Macaulay Culkin's acting career. They seriously need to lay off the psychopath child thrillers.

hanso 7/24/2009 5:08:41 AM

I remember The Good Son.  It had Elijah Wood in it also.  At least Elijah when ahead with his career, Culkin probably got molested by Michael Jackson.

The Kate & John he's refering too is from Jon & Kate plus 8.  Right?

Also, is it just me or does that Orphan girl look like an adult prostitute?

lister 7/24/2009 8:13:43 AM

For what it's worth, Culkin has never made any allegations against Michael. Even as an adulty he stood by him at his trials. He's also the godfather of all of MJ's children. So it's more "unlikely" that he was molested by MJ than "probably" (but I get it... it's more fun to claim the latter).

As an aside, "Home Alone" was on TV last night, and (other than Uncle Buck) he was a HORRIBLE child actor. Why did people like that movie so much?

hanso 7/24/2009 12:51:19 PM

Yea that's not worth much :)

myklspader 7/27/2009 6:50:58 AM

 I'll admit I saw it… it was not that bad except I knew the twist way before going into it (the trailer gave it away). The worst part of it was knowing the twist and having to sit through it to see if I was right. All in all the acting was not that bad on everyone's part except the girl who plays Esther. 

LooneyBinJIm 7/28/2009 2:07:41 PM

Orphan wasn't so bad. I don't think the movie would work without the twist though. With the twist in mind and in this day and age, wouldn't it have been easier for Ester to get a house and go on the internet??

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