Movie Review: "Orphan"

As great as it can be to view a film so good it reminds you of what an effective cinematic collaboration looks like, it's kind of fun to indulge in something really terrible every once in a while. I mean, so bad, it's practically a comedy.

That was the thought process I had in place when I bought my ticket for Orphan, a horror film that looked to be a cross between The Good Son and The Bad Seed. Imperfect as it was, I was disappointed to find that it was not the steaming pile of crap I had anticipated. In fact, it was pretty watchable.

A lot of that had to do with the acting. A personal favorite of mine since I saw her in 2004's Dummy, Vera Farmiga is great in the lead role as Kate, a complicated mother who's still haunted by the loss of a child. A former alcoholic, she is slowly but surely warming up to the idea of finally giving her children Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer) a third sibling.

Typically, I find it hard to watch child actors because their lack of confidence and experience usually comes through on screen. But both Bennett and Engineer are very natural in their respective roles.

Out of all the kids Kate and John (Peter Sarsgaard) see at an orphange run by Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), they pick the one demonic little girl from the pack, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). And once that deal is done, everything begins to change for the worse. The problem with this film is one that shows up in most horror films, which is the occasional ridiculousness of certain situations. It's pretty clear that Esther has some evil intentions, but appropriate responses are delayed way too long.

John is totally oblivious, which is a giant understatement. He doesn't find it odd that this new kid is clearly obsessed with him, and nobody seems to think twice when Esther shows up near Daniel when his treehouse burns down. You'd think this would be a huge red flag, seeing as how the orphange Esther once lived in admits (after a few incidents, of course) that she often pops up when people get hurt or, more specifically, burned.

And how gullible is Kate's own therapist Dr. Browning (Margo Martindale) that she can't tell when somebody's toying with her? Whenever any kid in trouble walks out of a room and says "I hope we can be friends," it usually means they kill people. Just something to keep in mind.

Its faults aside, the movie does have its moments. There are times when the music score plays around with you, indicating that something terrible is about to happen, and then it doesn't. And the "twist" ending proves effective, explaining why some of Esther's behavior seems so odd for someone her age.

I doubt very much this will go down as one of the most unforgettable horror movies ever (it's mediocre box office numbers seem to support that notion). But in terms of how summer thrillers go, it's not a terrible way to spend approximately 90 minutes. If the film does have something to teach (besides how risky it is to adopt kids with old people names), it's further evidence that parents with the names John and Kate are probably bad news. C

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