* (out of 5)
July 24, 2009
Vera Farmiga as KATE COLEMAN
Peter Sarsgaard as JOHN COLEMAN
Isabelle Furman as ESTHER
CCH Pounder as SISTER ABIGAIL
Jimmy Bennett as DANIEL COLEMAN
Margo Martindale as DR. BROWNING
Aryana Engineer as MAX COLEMAN
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
On a certain level, I was kind of looking forward to seeing “Orphan.” After all, I am a long-time horror movie buff, and all those creepy kid movies from the 70s (e.g., “The Omen” and “The Exorcist”) really freaked me out.
Count me disappointment, befuddled and totally flabbergasted when I finally saw the film.
“Orphan” tells the story of Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard), who lost a baby at delivery and now want to adopt a child. They find Esther (Isabelle Furman), a seemingly brilliant and beautiful little nine-year-old Russian girl. However, when they bring Esther home, she starts to terrorize the Coleman’s other two children, commits a series of violent acts and pits Kate and John against each other.
There is so much wrong with this film that I am almost overwhelmed. On the surface, “Orphan” looks like it might be pretty good. But it’s not even an effective horror movie. Instead, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a mockingbird. It sounds like a scary film, but it really isn’t.
There’s some gore and plenty of violence, but the suspense is awkward and misaligned. Director Jaume Collet-Serra thinks he’s so clever by trying to get you to jump at nothing, building the music to reveal that no one is around the corner or behind camera. However, when he tries this the fifth, sixth and even the seventh time, the only surprise is that Collet-Serra doesn’t think the audience has actually caught on yet.
The script is so deliberately written to keep the secret of this little girl that it becomes completely unbelievable. In order to do this, the main characters are so stupid (and that’s really saying something for a genre that revels in stupid characters to propel the thrill) that I found myself rooting against them. After all, if their actions are so moronic that they put themselves in needless danger, why should I get behind them.
Case in point, well into the film, Kate is convinced that Esther is evil. Yet she still lets the girl have the run of the house, complete and total access to every makeshift weapon imaginable and unrestricted interaction with her other kids. Moreover, in one scene, she asks both her children if Esther has done anything inappropriate or dangerous. The kids cower and look terrified as they lie (because Esther threatens them to keep quiet), and Kate doesn’t pick up on this. Is she’s such a bad parent that she can’t catch her kids in a lie, does she even deserve to be saved?
There is a certain payoff in this film, which is revealed in the last twenty minutes. A critic colleague of mine confided in me that he laughed hysterically (which wasn’t the intended response, of course) as the ending of the film played out. I admitted to him that I would have laughed if the movie hadn’t already sucked my soul from my body.
I give Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard credit for keeping a straight face while acting in this film. In fact, their performances are pretty decent, considering what a mess the movie is. They should have checked out director Jaume Collet-Serra’s resume first, though. If they had known this was the hack who gave us 2005’s stinker “House of Wax,” they might have dodged this bullet.