US (dir. Jaume Collet-Serra)
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman
Synopsis: A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be.
Review: Despite having the ugliest and most boring possible movie poster, “Orphan” still managed to impress. While it’s not the best “killer kid” genre movie out there (“The Omen” is still numero uno) it still ranks pretty damn near the top of the list, although I must admit that it’s a short list to begin with. Typically, this sort of movie would turn me off. I’m not terribly partial to kids causing malicious behaviour or participating in satanic death rituals, and I fully went into this movie expecting there to be a storyline involving a satanic ritual or pact with the devil. Fortunately, this movie steers clear of ANY supernatural sub-plots involving the antichrist or satan and the movie was all the better for it.
“Orphan” opens up with likely one of the best little intros that I can remember. It’s a great little dream sequence that makes you go “What the…. OH GOD!” and I guarantee you will be disgusted and shocked. Sadly, the film never hits this peak again – but that’s just because, in all honesty, it’s not a gross-out, splattery, gory movie. It’s got more of a real life drama edge and even a bit of a psychological aspect that makes you wonder if a lot of the incidences involving Esther (the orphan) are all really in her (former alcoholic, cheated on) adopted mother’s head (who recently gave birth to a still born baby girl). One of the best aspects of the film is the psychological warfare Esther initiates between herself and her adopted mother. At first you aren’t really clear why Esther does the things she does, but eventually her plans unfold. I would have absolutely loved this movie if the writer pulled a “Sixth Sense” style twist on us and made it so that somehow Esther was really just a figment of the mother’s imagination and I would have loved it even more if somehow Esther and the still born baby had some sort of a connection (not sure how that could have been written, but hey it would be worth a try).
One of the most disturbing things you’ll realize about this movie is how blantantly malicious Esther is (particularily for an 8 year old girl). My inital assumption was that she had been badly abused at one point or that she was insane, because 8 year old girls typically do not plan and cover up murders, threaten to castrate young boys, participate in Russian roulette, and purposefully stage accidents causing personal injury or potential death to others. Once her secret is revealed, you’ll definitely come to appreciate why she did the things she did, but seeing an 8 year old child actress play the role of Esther and seeing her do the things she does, gives you this overwhelming sense of awkward unease. I think this unease stems from the fact that you’re watching a child participating in extremely disturbing behaviour or just saying downright nasty (and specific) things. Seeing Esther just fills you with this general awkward ickiness that kind of spoils the movie. It’s much more fun when the child is more symbolically evil or just uses his or her mental powers to be malicious (i.e. The Omen, Village of the Damned), but the ending does an excellent job of reversing many of your assumptions about Esther, therefore allowing you to accept her past behaviour.
It was really exciting seeing Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as the parents in this movie. Vera Farmiga was an extremely unexpected choice for this role, especially considering that her last movie was a period film set in 1940s Germany. Peter Sarsgaard was an expected choice, considering how he usually plays really off characters, weirdos, or people who have the bad luck of having bad stuff go down around them. The girl who played Esther was downright awesome. Having someone of a young age do and say the things Esther was responsible for is a remarable feat, and I commend that young girl for giving an outstanding, although icky, performance. The other kids weren’t too bad. The little deaf sister was adorable, and also a good actress to boot. The bad older brother was great too, and his wretched annoyingness was enough to convince me that Esther was justified in taking him down.
I’m pretty happy I saw this movie, and the ending is definitely a suprising one (there’s no way in hell you’ll guess it). This movie is one of the rare few that doesn’t need to rely on the supernatural to explain away a child’s evil behaviour, and I’m glad they steered clear of trying to make Esther some sort of Damien #2. Worth seeing!