Orphan review

One great performance. An excellent opening. But Orphan sadly fades away long before the end credits roll...

If I am Vera Farmiga, I’m praying that I have the ability to have children naturally (assuming she wants children, which I am going to assume she does) because after doing two movies about adopting orphans with, ahem, problems, I’d be petrified to step foot into an adoption agency. That’s right, the unfortunate Jerseyite who adopted Joshua in 2006’s Joshua is back in yet another orphan-based horror film, only this time it’s a little girl who puts her family in peril.

I can only imagine who thought this would be a great idea. “Hey, remember that killer child movie?” “Which killer child movie?” “Doesn’t matter! Let’s do it again, only this time let’s make it a girl!”

After the tragic miscarriage of their third child and the subsequent spiral of shame and guilt that accompanies any traumatic event, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) find their life missing something. They have two wonderful children, Danny and Max, but they have a lot of love to give and no desire to go through the pain of another attempted pregnancy. So taking a page from the book of your average Hollywood star, they turn to the local orphanage.

There, the couple meet Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a sweet, shy little 9-year-old girl with a talent for painting pictures and a penchant for dressing like a prissy princess. Of course, that’s not her only penchant, as Kate discovers. Esther’s story starts showing cracks, the mother starts investigating, fake Internet search engines are used, and all the while Esther works slowly but surely to destroy the family, because any precocious child is either a heaven sent, family-saving angel or some sort of Satan baby who just wants to indulge a serious urge to kill.

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I can’t totally rip Orphan, because director Jaume Collet-Serra (best known for House Of Wax) gets excellent performances out of Fuhrman and her fellow child actors Jimmy Bennett (as Danny) and Aryana Engineer (as Max, stealing scenes with just her expressions due to Max’s deafness). The one aspect of this film I’ve seen routinely praised by others, and I’ll freely join them, is that Isabelle Fuhrman does a great job with her role. Seriously great, very creepy, and there are many scenes in which she kind of makes my skin crawl in the best way possible. I imagine it’s easier to work with three kids under 12 than it is to work with Paris Hilton.

However, he’s not so good with the adult actors he’s charged with handling. While Vera is fine as Kate, she ought to handle this role well by now since she’s done it before. Peter Sarsgaard, normally a fine actor, has one of the worst scenes in the movie. I’ve never seen a movie where people laughed harder at someone’s big emotional breakdown than I did in Orphan, and that’s split between Collet-Serra and screenwriter David Johnson for some incredibly poor placement and a serious leap in logic that just derails the entire film.

At this point, I have to wonder. What’s better for a movie? To start off legitimately interesting and to devolve into a series of dumb clichés, or to just be a series of dumb clichés without teasing the audience with what might have been?

I think I’m on the ‘just be dumb’ side, since it feels more honest, but maybe I’m in the minority. It just leaves me irritated to see a good set-up, and maybe 20-30 minutes of decent film wasted on an ending that was old in 1955 and a second and third act so predictable that I was able to lean over and tell my friends exactly what would happen next on several occasions. Granted, I’ve seen more horror movies than your average bear, but that’s no excuse to waste an otherwise decent set of performances from child actors.

Orphan opens in the UK on the 7th August. It’s playing in the US right now.

US correspondent Ron Hogan has decided that adopting a child isn’t for him; it will be natural birth only. Sure, the child might turn out to be a Damien, but he killed people *not* his dad. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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2 out of 5