Orphan is a horror film in the vein of The Bad Seed, which tends to be very creepy at times, but doesn’t do much in the scares. Despite some major plot holes it still manages to be an effective thriller and will disturb you to your very core at times.
The first scene of the film is one of the most gory and eerie parts of the film. We start out in a hospital where we see our main character Kate is about to give birth. Things are off in this scene, and start the film so well that it might make it hard for the rest of it to live up to the screen grabbing scene. This is all a dream. Kate gave birth to a stillborn baby years ago and still has horrific dreams about it. Despite having two children, her and her husband John wish for another. Having recently recovered from her alcoholism she believes it is time to adopt. They meet young Esther at an orphanage and immediately think she is right for them. She is creative, smart, and a beautiful little Russian girl. She gets along well with their deaf daughter Max exquisitely. Only their son, Daniel, feels there is something wrong with the girl. She is odd, she won’t wear modern clothes and insists on wearing a choker and velvet bracelets at all times. When awful things start to happen around her, Kate begins to wonder if she is the picture perfect adoptive child after all. When Kate sets herself against the child, she might have gotten a bigger enemy than her short stature suggests.
What makes this film work is its oddly disturbing elements. It has a dark, cold, gritty feel throughout the entire film. It takes the idea all the way, and never stops the villain who is a child from doing anything. There is something that will make you shudder as this little girl commits these atrocious acts and then puts on a smile as if nothing is wrong. What doesn’t work is a twist that seems a bit far fetched, but as this is a horror film we can’t ask too much. I have said many times that I feel the horror genre lacks a lot of scares lately. The genre lately is more gross than scary. I’ve realized with this film that the genre no longer has a lot of films which are as creepy and unsettling as this one. Not once did this film make me jump out of my seat, but I felt like I could have. The film sets you up for many cliched shots where you know you will jump, only to leave you hanging for another moment. It is this bit of cleverness that I feel more horror films should utilize.
There are also some major plot holes and some frustrating character decisions that will make you go crazy, but if you don’t notice them, go about your day and enjoy the movie. It isn’t the best film, it is very lazily written at times. The unfortunate thing about a review is that you can’t tell exactly what the plot hole was without ruining the film, so you might not even notice. For people with keen observation skills it will nag you and detract a little bit from the film.
I was surprised by the cast in this one. Both Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga are both actors I respect a lot, and I was glad to see this film had them. They both hold up their end very well, but the standout performances in the film go to the children. Isabelle Fuhrman hits all the right notes, giving us a cute sweet girl at first, to a conniving murderous girl later in the film. Newcomer Aryana Engineer as Max is perfect as the young deaf daughter of Kate. She is everything that Fuhrman’s Esther isn’t, and she is probably the most pure character in the film. She lights up every scene she is in, and plays the inquisitive child with a deft hand.
This film might have been better marketed as an October release, but it hit more the right notes than many other horror films have for me lately. There was enough wrong with it for me to not be in love with the film, but enough right that I can recommend it to people who love the genre.
Orphan gets a C+.