Thursday, December 15, 2016

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Orphan (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009)

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.



Orphan is a 2009 horror movie that did idling business on release. It has much to recommend it, including solid performances by leads Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard, and strong direction from genre helmer Jaume Collet-Serra (who made all those post-Taken Liam Neeson movies).

The premise is pretty simple: a couple left grieving after the death of a child go to an orphanage to fill the void in their lives. They wind up adopting a charming Russian orphan, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who quickly becomes a part of the family. However, little do they know that there is something wrong with Esther...

The most pleasing thing about Orphan is how unsafe it feels. Most modern day horror feels canned and predictable, but there is an unflinching quality to its darkness which makes Orphan better than its generic parts. The 'evil child' sub-genre has been around for decades, but most of these movies soft-pedal the scares, leaving the movies feeling neutered. Orphan manages to walk the line -- it is unsettling (especially during the final reveal) but it never becomes questionable.

Time for spoilers...

It is revealed that Esther is not a child: she is a 32 year-old woman! Having escaped from a Russian mental institution, Esther has been passing as a little girl, an orphan moving from one unsuspecting family to the next.

In a deranged attempt to find love, she ingratiates herself into established families solely to gain the patriarch's affections. When the father inevitably rejects her, a convenient accident happens to take place and Esther moves onto her next victims...

It's a crazy twist, but one that the filmmakers carry off with panache. Sure, the third act is nothing new -- our heroes creep around a house, trying to avoid a maniac -- but the movie has done such a good job at building the atmosphere and investing in the characters and their mad plight that it doesn't derail it.

A solid genre flick, Orphan is definitely worth a look.

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