Orphan (2009)

Orphan ReviewReviewed by Heather Wixson

Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, and Jimmy Bennett

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Orphan is the newest addition to the creepy kid pantheon of horror films. The film centers around Kate (Farmiga) and John (Sarsgaard), who are trying to keep their family together amidst a recent chain of events that threatens to destroy them, which includes the loss of their unborn child.

In an attempt to focus the love they had for their deceased child, the couple decides to adopt a child so that their love would end up going to someone who needs it. While attending an open house at a local orphanage, Kate and John meet young Esther (Fuhrman). Esther is a bright child, a talented artist, and immediately warms up to the both of them.

Kate and John bring Esther home to meet their two other children- Daniel (Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer), who is hearing impaired. Max immediately warms up to her new older sister but Daniel, who sees Esther’s “sophisticated mannerisms” as weird, rejects the new addition to his family. Soon, everyone but John begins to realize that there’s more to Esther than just the polite little girl and Kate decides it’s time to step up in order to keep her family in tact.

Director Collet-Serra, who previously worked on the Dark Castle flick House of Wax, returns to the genre, definitely as a more sophisticated storyteller this time around. Where House of Wax felt like Hostel-lite to me, Orphan has a darkly sophisticated feel that leaves those types of films behind.

The stark winter landscapes of the film act as a very engaging palette for cinematographer Jeff Cutter (who recently worked on the redux of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to shoot in. The film’s scenes in the snowy, wooded areas surrounding the house reflect the themes of isolation that Kate feels building throughout the movie. Plus, white snow always makes a good canvas for some bloodshed.

Orphan ReviewWhat kept Orphan from being too campy is the fact that the movie and the actors play it straight. The film is meant to be a domestic thriller/horror and it never strays from that vision.

Farmiga, as Kate, has officially made me a fan with her performance here. Her character struggles through her alcoholism, her lost child, and a tragic accident that almost took the life of young Max. She’s one of the first people to realize that Esther is indeed flawed, but because of her track record, no one sees her warnings as reputable.

Fuhrman’s portrayal of Esther is definitely a ground-breaking performance for the up-and-coming actress. Esther is a character that has to play both the good and bad and Fuhrman will give you chills with the dark places she is able to take Esther to throughout the film.

There will be many comparisons of Fuhrman’s role in Orphan being the break-out role that Dakota Fanning enjoyed with I Am Sam and the comparisons are justified. The ingénue is talented beyond her years.

Sarsgaard as John gives a solid performance but really isn’t given much to do until the third act of the film, and if I say anything beyond that it could very well give away the ending. What I can say is that as usual, Sarsgaard is an engaging presence on screen.

As the marketing campaign has alerted fans to, Orphan does indeed offer up a twist. While I would never dream of giving away what the ‘reveal’ is in the film, I feel that when you see what is happening- you either buy into it or you won’t. I personally enjoyed it myself.

Overall, I really enjoyed Orphan and enjoyed the fact that the film went to some pretty dark and twisted places. That’s not something you generally see these days in horror films that get released theatrically. If you are a huge fan of the evil kid sub-genre of horror flicks, then this movie is definitely going to be right up your alley.

4 out of 5

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    I think we should have a movie next called “Child Amputee” No, not really. I am sickened by the title and premise of this movie and I anxiously await for it to leave the theatres. A lot of children are traumatized by the events that led them to become orphans – I myself became an Orphan at the age of 7, and I can’t igore how upsetting this friggin’ Movie is to me any longer. What about the war children? the refugees from Sierre de Leon…aids orphans, children who lost their parents in accidents…this is serious.

  • ANTiSocial

    I loved this movie so much. Saw it twice. I was surprised with how good the acting was. The kids were amazingly good. And the actress who played Max had never acted before, according to IMDb.

    • Masked Slasher

      This is my favorite genre flick of ’09 and one of my recent favorites.

  • kiddcapone

    I’d give The Orphan a solid 7/10. The acting was top notch and the cinematography was great. I didn’t really buy into the “twist” ending, but I did appreciate the fact they tried something different. *Spoiler alert* It was obvious Esther was “older” than nine, but I was wrong with where they were headed. I thought for SURE they were going to remove the neck wrap and find two bite holes. The reason she acted old was because she WAS old (I was thinking Interview with the Vampire). I was half right.

    I’d recommend The Orphan to anyone looking for an above average horror movie to check out. Everyone sucked off Let The Right One In and I think The Orphan is pretty much on par with that flick. I dunno, maybe it was because I watched The Collector right before it. After that abortion, watching a homeless woman take a shit on the sidewalk would get high praise from me.

    • Styling Shatner

      We’ll see who shits on the sidewalk!

      Sorry, but I just had to say it after reading the last line of your post.

      Back to the movie, I also have to give my props to the several ladies who have been getting a lot of praise, as I think it’s well-deserved.

  • Morgan Elektra

    Well, I saw the “twist” coming fairly early on… there’s a pretty big ol’ hint almost as soon as they bring Esther home… but on the whole I enjoyed the flick. Not that it didn’t have some issues, but the filmmakers were obviously trying to build suspense and deliver a grown up horror movie and did a pretty decent job. I’m with Heather on this one… Orphan is a better than average evil kid movie. And honestly, some seriously fucking GORGEOUS cinematography.

  • Mr. Dark

    PS: It says something about the likability of your lead characters when your resolution near the is to want to shout at the screen ‘Look, just FUCK the 9-year-old, already, and live happily ever after!’

    Mr. Dark
    Part-Time Dread Central Gaming Guy
    Full-Time Freelance Smartass

  • Mr. Dark

    Just got back.

    It says something that the trailer for Whiteout is more interesting, entertaining, and original than the entirety of Orphan.

    It tried to do more with the ‘creepy kid’ genre, but I don’t think the last twist elevated it. The Good Son is still a billion times better.

    Mr. Dark
    Part-Time Dread Central Gaming Guy
    Full-Time Freelance Smartass

    • The Woman In Black

      I’ve got to agree with Dark on this one. Orphan was laughably bad, but in a so-bad-it’s-good way for sure. The “twist” was at least something different, but the whole scenario was just ridiculous. As if anyone would believe a 9-year-old, no matter how evil & crazy, would act that way. The audience we saw it with was in stitches the whole time. Plus, I’m so over the whole “I lost my baby and can’t ever be normal again” plot device. And how about we see a movie where the parents actually act like adults for a change? But yes, both Fuhrman as Esther and Engineer as Max were great. Too bad they were stuck in such a stinker. It’s a 2/5 from me.

      • PelusaMG

        Yes, as a plot device the whole, “I lost my baby and cannot be normal again” sucks; but the other day an elderly lady we had never met before broke down and cried when she saw us with our six month old… so I guess in the real world, some people never do!

  • Didn’t See It Coming

    Curious about this one. Just to comment your “House of Wax” being “Hostel-lite”, I don’t see it, especially since they both came out the same year, months apart. Just saying.

    • The Woman In Black

      Yeah, I don’t see that comparison either, but in any event House of Wax was practically a masterpiece compared to Orphan.

  • Victor Crowley

    I’d be a little more interested in this flick if the trailer didn’t show the WHOLE FUCKIN THING.

    Also I read the twist, and i gotta give ’em credit for not doing a played out twist, it was still wack.