Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Finally Saw "Orphan."

I don't always get to see as many movies as I would like, but I did want to see the much-talked about Orphan, and now thanks to On Demand and a late Sunday afternoon to myself, I sat down and watched it.

This haunted-looking waif is Esther, a child brought to America from Russia by a family tragically killed in a fire not long after bringing her home. Esther barely got out alive.

Or so, that's what grieving parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) are told by Sister Abigail (Warehouse 13's CCH Pounder) at the orphanage where they first meet her. The couple already have two children, the pre-adolescent Daniel and sweet, deaf Maxine, but their last child was still-born and they've decided to share the love they had for that baby with a child in need. Esther is well-spoken, well-mannered, artistic and charming and she soon joins the family, even though she is a little different. Take her clothing, for example: Esther dresses like a Victorian era porcelain doll, with frills and bows. And she never takes off the ribbons on her wrists and throat.

Esther quickly bonds with little Max, picking up sign language with ease and drawing Max into her confidence. Meanwhile, Mom Kate and brother Danny aren't so sure. After a few unsettling incidents, it is clear that there is something very wrong with Esther. Of course, Danny is too scared to say anything and everyone thinks that recovering alcoholic and still-grieving mom Kate has gone off the wagon.

Director Juame Collet-Sera's previous film, House of Wax, is most well-known for killing Paris Hilton with a pipe through her head, inviting all sorts of hollow-head jokes. And while it wasn't actually good, it was certainly lurid. Orphan is a much better film and Collet-Sera has learned how to build tension, even if the story is sort of been-there-done-that (The Bad Seed; The Good Son; The Godsend). And while the script by first-time writer David Johnson does add a unique twist to the Evil Child Syndrome formula, I still managed to figure it out before the reveal, something I really hate.

Sarsgaard (Kinsey; An Education) and Farmiga (Joshua - another Evil Child movie I've never seen) are fine, especially Farmiga. Kate's frustration as things spiral out of control is what propels most of the movie's suspense and Farmiga makes sure all of our sympathies lie with her. And doe-eyed Aryana Engineer uses those eyes to full advantage as Max, expressing every emotion without uttering a word. But I have to give true credit to 12 year-old Isabelle Furhman as Esther, a complex and decidedly disturbed character. In the hands of some other young actresses, the role would have been a parody of the genre; unintentionally funny and completely detrimental to the film (though it would probably have gotten equal attention for it's awfulness). Furhman plays just the right balance between unadulterated evil and childlike innocence. Esther is one of the creepier entries into the KCS genre.

While hardly a perfect film, Orphan is a fun, gruesome, twisted and surprisingly original entry into the Evil Child Syndrome genre of horror. **1/2 (Two and a half out of Four Stars).

And before you go and say something nasty about the Jonbenet joke, I think that entire industry is abhorrent and only used the image to express that opinion. No matter what I or you may think about the child pageant industry, her death remains a tragic and unresolved reminder of how precious life is. Sorry. Didn't mean to get quite that dark, but there you have it.

More, anon.

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