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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