Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Oh Esther, why are you such a bad girl? Perhaps she’s yet another spawn of Satan, a cat who has got to be one of the most prolific deadbeat dads in movie history. Being that Esther is Russian perhaps the fall of communism has upset her to the point that she has vowed to destroy America, one suburban family at a time. Or maybe Esther is just plain crazy, no explanations needed. The actual reasons why Esther, played by young actress Isabelle Fuhrman, is so rotten may actually surprise you. And the fact that this movie ‘Orphan’ actually contains a legitimate, actual, real life movie watching surprise is one of the reasons that director Juame-Collet Sera’s little horror thriller turns out to be so surprisingly effective.

We here at the FCU love us some Vera Farmiga and we can’t even pinpoint why. Probably because she just looks different from most actresses out there. Here Ms. Farmiga assumes the role of Kate Coleman, a mother of two adorable children who is still trying to cope with the still born loss of a third child a year ago. Kate is also a recovering alcoholic and it’s not clear to me whether or not her drinking was the reason she lost this child or the loss of the child was the reason she started drinking. Regardless Kate and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) have determined that the love they had to give this lost child shouldn’t be wasted, and as such are off to the orphanage to find a worthy child to give this love too. Instead they find Esther.

Not that anything was wrong with Esther initially as the kid is cute charming and bright as the headmaster at the orphanage, Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) has informed the couple. Plus as things started, out Esther was getting along fabulously with the Coleman’s five year old hearing impaired daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) though their oldest son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) has always had issues with the girl.

Now the problems start. Esther cherishes her privacy and is really into locking doors behind her for some reason, Esther wears these odd bows around her neck and wrists constantly, Esther dresses like Little Bo Peep, Esther learns sign language almost instantly, Esther can play the piano like few nine year olds ever which stuns her new mother who also happens to be a piano virtuoso herself. There are more problems but the only one who seems to notice these problems are Kate… and the children, but they’ve been warned to keep their freaking mouths shut. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and wouldn’t you know it, it’s that Nun who NOW says that she thinks Esther might have some problems. Thanks Sister Abagail. Somebody falls on a pair of scissors, there’s Esther. Somebody burns to death, there’s Esther. Somebody slips on a slide, there’s Esther. Oh Sister Abigail, why did you have go and turn out be a Narc? Nobody likes a narc. By this time Kate’s seen enough and Esther has to go. Kate’s stupid ass husband on the other hand sees nothing but love emanating from the newest craziest member of his family and thinks his wife may be back on the sauce. Kate may be many things but she’s no drunk. Anymore. And after a little Columbo type investigative work Kate learns the truth about her new daughter. The question is can Kate let the others know this truth in time to save her family?

There is an overriding feeling of uneasiness that director Juame Collet Sera has injected into his film, so much so that as the film starts it’s difficult to watch just because even without knowing exactly what is going to happen you know that SOMETHING messed up is about to happen. However as the movie played out its string, this uneasiness lifted and the movie wasn’t so depressingly oppressive to watch, probably because I got a grip on the kind of crazy that Esther was bringing to the table. I can deal with crazy, I’m married to crazy, but I gotta know what direction the crazy is coming from. The good thing with ‘Orphan’ is that as my personal uneasiness with the film dropped, the tension that the director was creating kept getting higher and higher and the mystery of why Esther is what Esther was never became clear to me until they actually told me. This is a very good thing because how many times have we seen some movie with some supposed twist that you were able to guess simply by watching the trailers? I even hesitate calling it a twist since there wasn’t a bunch of clever clues strewn around to allow the audience to make an assumption. I know there are those of you out there who’ve claimed that you’ve ‘figured out’, I’m just saying I’m wasn’t one of them.

The atmosphere and cinematography were on point for film of this nature, cold and foreboding, and the performances from a cast which consisted largely of children were top notch. Especially Isabelle Fuhrman who will probably have to wait until she grows up before she can shake the part she played as Esther. Sure Peter Sarsgaard’s oblivious father might’ve taken blind ignorance to another level but you gotta have him in there I suppose.

With its uneasy atmosphere, cool and foreboding look, somewhat disturbing subject matter and fine performances ‘Orphan’ is a welcome addition to the creepy demonic kid movie genre.

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