Title: Orphan (2009)
Director: Jaume Collet Serra
Cast: Peter Saarsgard, Vera Ann Farmiga
The thing with horror movies these days is that so many crappy ones are made. Can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’m watching a horror film and I simply roll my eyes back in disappointment. It’s become a rare occasion when a horror film that is actually good comes along. But when they do, I relish them like a plate of caviar. This is how I felt while watching Orphan, finally a good horror movie amongst all the crap!
Orphan tells the tale of a family who has just recently suffered through a miscarriage and therefore lost what was to be their third child. So they decide that the right thing to do is adopt a child, and give that adopted child all the love they were going to give to the child they lost. The child they end up adopting is nine year old Esther. Esther is artistic, intelligent, well mannered and educated. What’s not to like about this little girl?
So evil little kid movies have been around as far back as films like Village of the Damned, Children of the Damned and The Bad Seed. Films like The Omen, Wicked Little Things, Joshua and The Good Son can be added to this list as well. These are films in which the main star is a child with all the evil capabilities that an adult might have. Orphan is this kind of film, but it has more in common with The Good Son, in which Macaulay Culkin plays the evil kid, and Elijah plays the good one. The element that makes these movies work so well is how they show us a little kid, whom we normally associate with innocence, purity and goodness being 100% pure concentrated evil! It’s not a new concept, but when its done well, it works wonders for a horror movie. Orphan ended up being one of my favorite evil little kid movies ever made.
Many elements make this one work. Number one: its got a great cast. Whatever film Peter Saarsgard is in, he makes that much better. I still have not been disappointed by Saarsgard and though his involvement in this film is not a career defining for him, he did a good job in portraying the naïve and good hearted husband. Vera Ann Farmiga, the actress who plays his wife does a great job of playing the depressed mom, looking for a way to fill the void left by her unborn baby. But the real star of the show is Isabelle Fuhrman, the actress who plays the adopted daughter, Esther. Now here is a career making performance! You will end up hating Esther, she has no moral code, no ethics, she has an agenda, and she’s willing to go all the way to make it happen. She’s an expert manipulating people, and emotions. Price of admission is worth it just to see her performance. Shes a young actress who was totally commited to making this a special role, even going as far as speaking in a Russian accent cause her character has a Russian background. She reminds me of that child actress that appeared in Terry Gilliams Tideland. Totally inmersed in her character, she gave a performance that might have well been given by an adult or an accomplished actor. Isabelle Fuhrman goes from a sweet and kind of weird little girl, to completely demented and psychotic bitch from hell! It’s an amazing transformation, and extremely believable. Her performance was one of the best surprises about this film.
What other things make this one a special one? Well, the amazing direction. The story is told in a very classy fashion. This is a rich family, they live in an amazing home, she’s a teacher, he’s an architect, so they live in this beautiful home in the middle of the woods to which they welcome Esther into. The family dynamics were very well achieved from the casts side, but also, the script made the situations interesting and different. The couple have two other kids, one of them is this sweet little girl who is hearing impaired. She’s just the sweetest little girl whom you’ll quickly fall in love with. She plays the kind of character you want nothing evil to happen to. Esther comes to disrupt this families peace. Gotta give props to the writers and the director for making everything believable, the family doesn’t feel like a generic badly written family unit.
From a visual angle, the film is amazing as well. The director, a Spanish guy named Jaume Collet Serra known for having directed the House of Wax remake (which wasnt that bad in my book) does an outstanding job of making the film visually interesting. They guy chooses the most unorthodox angles, great editing, and fills the movie with atmospheric, dark and isolated moments that add a real feeling of dread to the whole thing. There’s shots of the exterior of the house that make you feel like your in the middle of nowhere, the wind blowing, shots of lonely snowy hills. One of the most interesting elements of the film comes from the fact that Esther is an artist, and she loves doing these weird child like paintings. But then there’s another level to her art which you discover further on in the film that’s just so interesting visually. Kudos to this director for making the movie interesting from all angles, performance, story wise, and visually.
The thing with this movie is that it received a lot criticism because it portrays orphans as being evil. This is the part of the review where I get pissed off. There’s a group of super conservative reviewers out there, who work for these high and fancy magazines and newspapers that just loves to bash a movie whenever its “morally objectionable”. Whatever film comes along that portrays something in what they consider to be morally incorrect fashion, then no matter how good the film may be, they simply write it off as crap, as garbage. People read these reviews, and the movie tanks at the box office. Not because it was a bad film, but because a group of conservative self righteous idiots think the film might affect society in a negative way. And sadly, this is what some of these reviewers were saying about this movie. That it was trash, clicheish and whatever. These are the same folks who bashed Silent Night Deadly Night, an excellent slasher that came out in 1984 portraying a young man dressed in a Santa Claus suit killing people with an axe on Christmas Eve. Just because this film messed with the image of the cash cow known as Santa Clause, they bad mouthed it, no matter how good a slasher that film was. And is. Silent Night Deadly Night is an excellent slasher film, highly recommend you give that one a look see if you haven’t already.
So Orphan was destroyed by some critics because of this. So much so that before the film starts on the DVD, they put this commercial that lets you know that the orphans that appear in the film are fictional and that there are real Orphan children out there waiting for you to welcome them into your home. Really? As if watching a movie (a fictional tale) was going to change how I think about orphans. Please. Come on people. This is a movie. I know real life orphans are not as evil and vile as Esther is in the movie. But no, some idiots out there were actually worried that this movie might change peoples out look on Orphans and that as a result, people were not going to adopt a kid. Please, come on, give me a little more credit. I recognize the power of film, and I recognize that yes, it can change your outlook on certain aspects of life, and think about things you might not have thought of otherwise, but come on, we all know this is a horror film, and its just trying to scare us. Do you think I’m not going to go to a hotel after seeing The Shinning? No. Because I know it’s a freaking movie! I can tell the difference between fiction and reality, and so can the grand majority of you out there. But no, some reviewers saw this film plot as wrong, so the movie got bad reviews. As a result of these bad reviews, not many people went to see this excellent film in theaters, and boy, did they miss out on a truly excellent film!
But hey, now the film is out on DVD. And it’s ready to be discovered by everyone. So trust me, this movie is excellent, it wont make you hate Orphans in general. Just the particular fictional Orphan who appears in the film. Movie is a great suspense filled flick all around. An excellent film in every way. It takes many unexpected turns, and is genuinely spooky at times. Hope you guys don’t miss out on what is one of the best horror films to come out in a long time. Its edgy, risky, ballsy and dares to shock you like not many films dare nowadays. I hold Orphan in as high regard as I did Inside, another excellent recent horror film.
Rating: 5 out of 5