Film review by: Witney Seibold
Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Orphan” is nearly a perfect exploitation movie. It’s surprisingly solid, especially in light of his previous film, the remake of “House of Wax.” Here we have a killer child film with great photography, a terrific pace, a few creative conceits, a few predictably predictable elements, some good performances, and a twist that will send you reeling with trashy joy.
“Orphan” actually has the wherewithal (or perhaps just the lack of taste) to put children in mortal danger time and time again. Yes, that is often considered morally irresponsible. I love that. I love that “Orphan” was ballsy enough to put a deaf little girl in the back of a car, and set it rolling down a hill. I love a 6-year-old had a gun turned on her. I appreciate the moxie it takes to be that off-the-rails.
Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga, who played the mom of a killer child previously in “Joshua”) has a pre-teen boy, a deaf little girl, and a painful miscarriage to her name. She’s recently off the bottle, and blames her drinking on her miscarriage. There’s a great dream sequence in which we see her being wheeled down a hospital corridor, leaving behind a thick trail of vaginal bloody on the floor. Her husband is played by Peter Sarsgaard, and is a bit of a wimp. Since Kate has been sober for nearly a year, and they’re still smarting from the loss of their newest infant, this well-off white family decides to adopt a 9-year-old Russian orphan from the local orphanage (run by CCH Pounder).
The orphan is named Esther, and is played by excellent 12-year-old actress Isabelle Fuhrman. Esther is perfectly behaved, dresses like a Victorian era schoolgirl, and is an exceptional artist. She’s also secretly a pianist, but she doesn’t reveal that right away. She also refuses to be seen in the nude, and never removes the decorative ribbons around her neck and wrists.
As one can see coming, Isabelle begins behaving strangely. She kills birds. She threatens bullies at school. She lies and manipulates her parents. Pretty soon, she’s seen doing some really horrible, criminal things, and keeping the other children complicit. When Kate begins questioning her behavior, everyone assumes she’s either overreacting, or is, perhaps, back on the bottle. Esther mocks her, and accuses her, and Kate begins to lose her sanity.
I really wish I could tell you the true nature of Esther, but I want it to remain a secret. I will only say that her true nature allows for some excellent unexpected and ballsy images. Not content to have a run-of-the-mill child killer, we’re given something more.
I loved this movie more than I ought to love a movie like this. I loved the pacing, I loved the performances, and I really loved Esther. I loved the weirdo, criminal, and exploitative elements, and I loved that, while slick and beautiful, seemed to know exactly what kind of film is was. I loved the music by John Ottman. “Orphan” seems to be one of the better horror films of the year. If you see it, write me, and we can discuss the ending more openly. It’s certainly worth tracking down.