Potential foster parents and those who wish to adopt should probably stay away from this movie. The rest of us can enjoy a decent thriller which is, in part, formulaic and predictable, but hides a sting in the tail which is very hard to spot.
The same production team that brought you House Of Wax and Gothika, among others, brings you a classy horror which owes more than a passing nod to previous ‘wicked child’ outings, from The Omen to The Innocents.
The overall feel of the film is of retro horror glamour (and by that I mean the 70s, believe it or not). Yes, we have the Internet and iPhones, but without those it could have easily been set in a decade other than our own.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra takes his time setting the tone and the foundations for the family drama to unravel; the shocks start coming well into the first hour.
Strangely enough, the movie it most reminded me of is Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, with its attention to the creepily unfashionable attire of the child and, of course, her psychotic behaviour.
The movie opens with a surreal birth scene, which sets an unsettling tone for the rest of the movie. We follow Kate and John (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) a happy couple with a nice house and two kids who are in the process of adopting a child. We soon understand that they are, in fact, happy-ish; they are still mourning a stillborn baby, she is a recovering alcoholic, and he has been unfaithful. This makes the couple flawed and ‘normal’. They are not a picture-perfect family wrecked by the malicious working of an evil child, rather, they are working at their relationship and family life day after day.
Obviously, there has to be some rot in the closet, all the easier for the manipulative Esther, whom they adopt, to catch on to the underlying tension and exploit it.
Esther (played impressively by Isabelle Fuhrman) is a 9-year-old Russian orphan, well behaved and well mannered, if somehow old fashioned in her ways and her fashion sense. She quickly bonds with the younger stepsibling Max (the excellent Aryana Engineer), who desperately wanted a sister, and instantly clashes with her stepbrother, who, as is often the case with children, cottons onto her early on.
The ending is, perhaps, the weakest part of the movie, more clichéd than I would have liked. It is the getting there which is more fun for the viewer.
Horror movie aside, one gets the feeling the break-up of the all-American family in it could have made a more interesting movie with less fake blood and more psychological twists. However, the relationship between Esther and her adoptive mother Kate (Vera Farmiga, who delivers her role in such a naturalistic style you become drawn in and involved very easily) is the most interesting of the movie, going from maternal love to suspicion, mistrust, and ultimately, a confrontation.
This movie could have been a much more predictable effort were it not for the twist that you will not see coming. It was this twist, apparently, that enticed most of the cast as well as the filmmakers to take this project on. Without it, it could have been a much more formulaic film, and it is a credit to the acting skills of Isabelle Fuhrman and the direction of Collet-Serra that it does not appear a too unbelievable option.
The DVD extras are not extraordinary. You get interviews with the producers, the director and the child star, as well as the theatre trailer, a couple of deleted scenes and an alternative ending. But, other than that, not a lot to sink your teeth into.
Get Orphan [DVD] at the Den of Geek Amazon Store