Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Orphan is a pretty successful scary movie. There are some genuinely suspenseful moments, a genuinely unsettling story, and something completely missing from most modern horror movies- a twist ending that's neither contrived or obvious. Now this isn't an entirely original movie. It bares a striking resemblance to The Good Son, which in turn bares a striking resemblance to The Bad Seed, and about a dozen other movies. This just shows that there are no new stories. Instead what's important is what new ideas are brought to these stories. In this regard, Orphan handles itself well.

The story follows a married couple, Kate and John Coleman (Vera Fermiga and Peter Sarsgaard), just after the stillbirth of what would have been their third child. After this tragedy, they decide to adopt. Probably a poor decision considering Kate wrestling with this recent trauma and dealing with her demons of prior alcoholism (which nearly resulted in the death of their second child- daughter, Max). These problems are exacerbated when they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who can nicely be described as odd.

It quickly becomes apparent that Esther is more than odd, when accidents begin to follow her around. This drives a wedge between John (who only sees the disingenuous overly enthusiastic Esther) and Kate (who sees the real Esther). And caught in the middle are Max and their oldest child, Daniel. They are intimidated, and even threatened by Esther, but are powerless to do anything as Esther gets more and more audacious while keeping John eating out of her hand.

What makes this movie good is besides depending on shocking scares (though it has its fair share of those, too), it relies heavily on Kate dealing with her own demons, blaming herself both for the stillbirth and Max's near death. The acting captures these emotions for the most part. Fermiga is powerful, Fuhrman is disturbing (I'm hoping this doesn't get her typecast), and Aryana Engineer who plays the hearing impaired Max is absolutely adorable. Really the weak parts were Sarsgaard, who I generally love, and Jimmy Bennett who plays Daniel. They both seemed to just go through the motions, and Sarsgaard especially came across as simply not being there. I don't blame them, though. The parts themselves were simply poor.

I frequently find myself disappointed by horror movies. Maybe one out of ten ends up being worth my time (and that is a very generous ratio). Orphan is that one. It's not stellar but it's a decent thriller.


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