Adoption can be a frightening new experience for both the parents and the child being adopted. Both parties are dealing with the unknown, to a certain extent. Many times, families with adopted children have to contend with some deep seated issues in order to make it work.
But what happens when the newest addition to the family harbors a psychotic personality and an equally twisted secret?
Orphan, (released theatrically on July 24th, 2009), revolves around the adoption of Esther, a disturbing little girl whose violent nature threatens to destroy the family that takes her in.
As the film progress, the adoptive family begins questioning Esther's past based on the chilling events surrounding them shortly after her adoption. The closer they get to the truth, though, the more destructive Esther becomes to keep it secret.
While obvious cliches about hellish children exist, a well-written script, bizarre yet believable plot twist, and stellar performances from its child actors make it a highly enjoyable horror film to watch.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, (House of Wax, Goal! 2:Living the Dream), the film follows the adoption of 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) into the family of Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, respectively). The Colemans lost their latest child to stillbirth, and the couple hopes to salvage that lingering love through adoption. The Colemans have two other children as well, Daniel (Jimmy Benett) and Maxine (Aryana Engineer) who is deaf.
An angel at first glance, Esther appears to be nothing more than a misunderstood little girl from Russia. Shortly after joining their family, The Colemans are exposed to Esther's unexpected and increasingly violent behavior. It isn't long before they realize Esther isn't who she initially appeared to be.
A tip from Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), the nun in charge of Esther's old orphanage, leads Kate to suspect that Esther is hiding a secret so dark that the child is willing to kill in order to conceal it. Kate desperately tries to keep her family safe while in search of the truth before Esther's wrath destroys them all.
At times, the film's plot feels very familiar to movies like The Good Son, Bad Seed, and other films about freaky little children. In fact, a good deal of the story can seem very cliché. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it works in the film's favor. But there is definitely a feeling of deja vu surrounding the movie.
One interesting concept introduced in the film is the inclusion of Maxine, The Coleman's completely deaf daughter. The fact that Max can only communicate non-verbally adds another dimension to the plot. It foreshadows some clever screenwriting and situations that help breath originality into the genre.
The big secret advertisied on the movie poster and throughout the trailer is a plot twist some may or may not see coming. I definitely didn't expect it, so it was very satisfying to learn Esther's motivation for her behavior. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say that it puts a lot of the seemingly random parts of the story into place, and exposes just how well written the script was.
Perhaps the greatest draw of the film is its acting. The cast, for the most part, deliver all-around solid performances. Some characters are typecast, such as Kate being the "scapegoat that nobody believes" and John as the "clueless one". Vera Farmiga's character is believable, but Peter Sarsgaard's character just suffers from the typical horror film idiocy. It's really a shame when compared to how fleshed out the others are.
The true stars of this movie, (and the real reason to go see it), are the child actors, particularly Esther and Max. Isabelle Fuhrman absolutely kills her performance. It's a little disturbing that a 12 year old actress can play a role that frightening, but Esther is the reason to see the film. You might even empathize with her at the beginning. She is a very well-rounded character, and not just the stereotypical stab-happy antagonist.
Also, It's impossible not to fall in love with Max's character. Aryana Enginner, (who suffers from hearing loss in real life), simply illuminates the film while onscreen. Hers is one of the most developed and flawlessly executed roles for a child I have ever seen in cinema. There is a very emotional moment between Max and Kate, that is played out completely without speaking, and it's very touching.
One final fact about the movie that I have to mention is its soundtrack. It's one of the few film scores that I actually remembered outside of watching the movie (the others being The Fifth Element and The Dark Knight.)
Normally, film music serves as only background ambiance it seems. Very rarely do I ever want to hear the music behind a movie after the credits roll. Composer John Ottman managed to craft a score that not only blends well with the action onscreen, but that also stands out and take on new life.
My personal favorites include the piano piece that plays when Kate tells Esther about her miscarriage, the strings played during the black light scene in Esther's bedroom, and the chilling piano riff that plays towards the end of the movie. I loved the soundtrack, and it truly adds another layer to the film dynamic.
The Final Verdict
While Orphan emerges as more of a thriller than an actual horror film, (think "boo!" scares), that doesn't change the fact that it is a great film, and a huge improvement over Jaume Collet-Serra's previous debacle, House of Wax. Orphan will creep out audiences with the twisted truth of just how evil some children can be.
Orphan was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 27th, 2009.
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