Orphan (2009), or Never Trust A Cold War Relic

4 12 2009

Well, folks, Eric here with another god-damn preposterous film. I don’t know why so many famous people are attached to Orphan. The thing was financed by Warner Brothers, not known THAT well for their horror films, and somehow they bagged Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio to produce! Not only that, but they snagged Vera Farmiga, soon to be alongside George Clooney in the upcoming Up in the Air, on her way to the top. Considering what we’re dealing with here, I cannot understand how this happened. This is a demonic child movie, one of the weaker thriller scenarios on the market when one considers how large and intelligent a child is and how frightening they can realistically be. DiCaprio won’t sign on to just ANYTHING though, so to up the believability factor they do have an explanation for why this child is so frightening. It happens to be, however, an impossibly lame explanation, a failure of a twist ending that could have come from a reject in an M. Night Shyamalan script pile.

We follow the exploits of the Colemans. They have two lovely children, but are stricken with grief after one of their pregnancies is a stillbirth. They have tried getting over it, but their relationship is complicated as it is, so things are tough when another problem is heaped upon them. Eventually, they decide to adopt, opting to give the love they were reserving for their lost child to someone who needs it just as badly. At the orphanage, they peruse the options like they would at an appliance store or a meat market, but nobody stands out. Until they meet Esther. A child from Russia, Esther is a 9 year old who seems to be perfect for them; she’s smart, charming, cute as a button, and undeniably talented. They pick her almost immediately, and Esther appears to be happy about the decision. Esther and her new family start trying to bond, but it appears that Esther, while outwardly friendly to the parents, begin to have some problems when she interacts with other people, especially children. People who piss her off have a tendency to get hurt, so a trend develops that Esther’s mother soon begins to pick up on. But she’s the only adult who can sense what sort of evil Esther might have in her, so she becomes increasingly detached from her husband who doesn’t think anything is wrong, and her children, who are too terrified to talk about what they’ve seen in Esther.Can she uncover the truth behind this little girl who is more than she seems? Or is it too late for the Colemans to break away from this evil orphan girl?

This is basically the same formula as The Good Son, if you think about it, r a really harsh sequel to Problem Child. It’s been done before, and so if you’re familiar with the formula, it all seems like slightly stale territory. We have the kids who know but are too afraid to tell, we have the overly oblivious parent who thinks that this talk of evil children is nonsense, and we have the other parent who is so sure of the child’s evil nature, she’s willing to make herself look like a crazy bitch and an abusive parent to let the world know. And of course there’s the child, who’s hyper-intelligent and able to carry out complicated, malicious attacks on those around her. It’s usually a pretty silly idea, what with the notion that they’re children, and they don’t have the cognitive capacity or the physical to do some of these things just yet.  BUT ORPHAN HAS A CATCH! Oh, boy, does it have a catch. I anticipate a few Golden Raspberries in this film’s future because of this film’s impossibly weak twist! It’s quite wretched, so much so that I personally felt like it besmirched any sort of good will the movie had with me beforehand. It really got to me, and if you still want to see this movie after my review, don’t let me say I told you so.

The actors are good. Let me rephrase that. These actors are good actors, but their performances here were not that good. Director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to exert much control over these people’s style, so it’s sort of a free-for-all as far as the consistency of the performances as each actor goes into stock characters. Vera Farmiga, soon-to-be famous actress, is passable here as the mother, but I think she should have spoke up about the hysteria her character goes through. She goes through moments of intuitiveness, but other times she’s as dumb as a post, allowing the little demon Esther to play her with ease and simultaneously losing any respect from the audience. Peter Sarsgaard isn’t much help as the father, either. He’s playing his stock “you’re being paranoid, honey” character who doesn’t interact with anybody much besides Vera Farmiga, whom he’s constantly calling out as a paranoid loon who needs to calm down about their secretive and mysterious quirky Russian orphan daughter. The one actor I really enjoyed, despite my hatred of the character, was Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Esther. She is really very good for her age. She knows exactly what to say and how to say it to get a sharp emotional response out of us. I hope she has a long career in films, because I think she has an extraordinary talent on display here that should not go to waste.

Orphan isn’t all bad. The focus on the mother instead of the father as the hero was a welcome breath of fresh air, the complicated relationship the parents have is pretty engrossing, although sometimes it can all get a little faux soap-opera, and the pacing is nice and methodical for a story like this. But with a lame score, a clunker of a script, and possibly the worst twist! of the year, Orphan falls pretty short of any of its goals. Oh, and did I mention… BOO?!?!? There are plenty of gratuitous BOO!s around here, so don’t get your hopes up for anything genuinely scary. I give Orphan 3 1/2 little Russian terrors out of 10.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my review of Photographing Fairies! Until then!