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Orphan In Review

Updated on August 4, 2022
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LA is a creative writer from the greater Boston area of Massachusetts.

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Had I not been overcome with boredom on the same night that one of my local movie theaters was having a bargain night, I most likely would’ve never seen the movie, Orphan. Yet, bored I was and $4.75 the tickets were and so I went to see it. In hindsight, I should’ve just read a book.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Orphan tells the story of what happens when one’s judgment is clouded by grief. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) Coleman’s marriage has been rocky for years. Early in the movie we learn that he had an affair and that she is a recovering alcoholic who was sent to rehab after nearly killing her youngest child in a drunken driving accident. When Kate’s third pregnancy doesn’t go as planned and the baby is stillborn, things become even harder. In the hopes that it’ll help the family heal, the struggling couple decides they will adopt a nine-year orphan named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) who they know nothing about but are eerily drawn to. Though their deaf-mute daughter immediately takes to her new sister, their son senses that something isn’t right with Esther. After a child who teased Esther accidentally falls and badly breaks her leg, Kate begins to wonder if her son’s apprehension may have some validity. When people last seen by Esther start to go missing and John gets pulled deeper in by Esther’s charm, it is up to Kate to find out what dark secrets may be hidden in her daughter’s past.

Orphan is a very incomplete movie. The beginning drags, the ending is rushed, and the middle didn’t seem to exist. Up until just before the end, the movie is predictable and boring. After the “big reveal” the movie becomes uncomfortable and too much to take. I’ve found that when a huge secret is revealed at the end of a movie it is the writers’ (Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson) way of trying to overcompensate for the disaster that is the rest of their script and Orphan is no exception. Given so little to work with, it is not surprising that Farmiga and Sarsgaard’s performances were so poor. Their characters are two-dimensional, weak people that you can’t feel a smidge of sympathy for. On the other hand, as the creepy murderous Esther, Fuhrman is all that you want her to be. I was unfamiliar with her until now but will certainly watch to see where she goes from here. I just wish she hadn’t been so potty-mouthed.

Beyond being reviewed badly, Orphan has become quite controversial. Adoption advocates are protesting it claiming that it promotes negative stereotypes about orphans. Melissa Fay Greene, an adoptive mother of five who writes for The Daily Beast, has been quoted as saying, "The movie Orphan comes directly from this unexamined place in popular culture. Esther’s shadowy past includes Eastern Europe; she appears normal and sweet, but quickly turns violent and cruel, especially toward her mother. These are clichés. This is the baggage with which we saddle abandoned, orphaned, or disabled children given a fresh start at family life." Though I do see where Greene is coming from, I do not agree with her. In my opinion, though the murderess is an orphan, the film centers more on her need to hide her past and the violent acts she commits than that she is an orphan. Also, like past horror movies involving children with screws loose (Halloween and The Bad Seed to name a couple), Orphan reminds us that evil can come in cute packages and that parents need to be parents and give their children attention, or they may act out. Esther’s heritage goes unquestioned, and she is warmly embraced into the family until she brings harm upon another little girl. There is also another key reason as to why I believe this movie doesn‘t discriminate against orphans. However, was I to divulge this detail I’d be revealing the only original plot point of the movie and, on the off chance that you still want to see Orphan, I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.

In short, Orphan is not a good movie. It is full of overused plot points and relies too heavily on shock value and not enough on actual storytelling. Even though I saw it for cheap, I still feel cheated and wish I had waited a few years to catch it on basic cable. Nowadays, no one has money to waste, and Orphan is just that. The next time I’m bored and feel the urge to see a horror movie I’ll just turn on the news and get my fix.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2009 L A Walsh


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