Going into “Orphan”, I actually managed to have little to no expectations which is a rarity for myself. I knew what the movie was about, I knew who was in it. I just didn’t pay close attention and didn’t care too much one way or the other. It looked sufficiently creepy all while teetering on the edge of being either good fun or absolute crap. Sadly, before going in I knew what was going on here thanks to not censoring myself from reviews well enough, so I will try and avoid that here and give you sufficient warning before we get into that territory. Regardless of this fact, I was surprised to find myself enjoying this movie has much as I did!
The setup is simple enough; a family of four consisting of Peter Saarsgard and Vera Fermiga have gone through a recent tragedy. Their third child was stillborn. Understandably, this is hard on the entire family and leads to many problems for each of them to contend with. Eventually, they decide it best for the family to adopt a child to share their love and so they do; enter Esther. Esther is a quiet Russian nine year old. Dark features, a sweet smile and a knack for art and a straight forward outlook on life endears her to the Coleman family so they snatch her up. At first life at home with their new family member is everything they could hope for. Fun and warm with an occasional outbreak of sibling jealousy. It doesn’t take long however for them to discover that Esther has a dark side and it is soon going to bubble to the surface.
In essence, the setup of “Orphan” is pretty simple. So simple in fact that the trailers make this movie sound exactly like “The Good Son” and “The Bad Seed”. Being the most common statements I’ve read in regards to this movie, this assumption is somewhat correct but ultimately wrong. It does mirror these former films for quite some time in plot and tone but it eventually takes a drastic turn that makes it a film of its own. Where all off these films are in common is the family drama elements. “Orphan” handles this well enough yet it feels like it falls short and stutters a bit. There is a lot of time spent highlight certain aspects of the family turmoil, the stillbirth not being the most prominent. No, they choose to focus instead on the fact that mother was an alcoholic. This does come into play later on and is essential to the story but it still feels overplayed. They harp on this angle repeatedly leading to much eye rolling after awhile. It is small details such as this that are in fact essential but given to much weight that make this movie a bit of a chore to start out with. Thankfully though, it does eventually pick up.
Esther, played by Isabelle Fuhrman, is the lode stone to “Orphan” since she is in fact, the orphan. With the setup of the movie, the whole thing focuses on this young girls performance to pull it through. She’s the one that has to show the many faces, the evil, bring the chills and thrills. You know what? She bears the weight well. Fuhrman, for me, was what made “Orphan” as fun as it was. She handles the many faces of Esther fairly well and goes after them with gusto. As the ending of the film draws near, she manages to work with the changes and adapt to them and still keep things believable.
In reality, the entire cast at work here does a fine job with their parts. All of them are believable and do well with what they have to work with. The problems in “Orphan” lie in the plot and writing itself. As I mentioned before there are aspects that are overplayed. There are also parts of the plot that are overlooked and breezed over as well. This makes the movie feel uneven throughout as it starts to build to its big third act, wavering between slow and heavy and sometimes confusing. Despite this it still manages to be engaging and even bring in a few chuckles and shows definite promise for more to come from the first time writing crew.
It’s at this point that I will warn you that you may want to look away if you have yet to see “Orphan”. This part of the review will contain spoilers and you owe it to yourself to go in fresh. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, just know that overall I enjoyed it quite well by the end of it. It is the third act and the twists within that made the movie enjoyable!
The Third Act.
Okay, so here we are. The tweest. Remember, I warned you.
As it stands on its own, I enjoyed the dwarfism twist of “Orphan” quite a bit. I unfortunately spoiled this aspect for myself before seeing the movie, but it still worked. Knowing what was in store, it actually made the film seem that much more creepy and unsettling, especially when Esther begins to let her freak flag fly. Had I not known this, I think the third act would have still been enjoyable but perhaps a bit less so. They simply didn’t handle the reveal all to well. Perhaps it was the editing that made it feel clunky; they could have been effective with what they had going on. It just felt rushed in hindsight. Regardless, the actual twist in itself was pretty great.
With the idea of dwarfism in play, it is this factor that makes watching Fuhrman at work that much more enjoyable. She handled the completely unhinged portion of the show great and seemed to embrace the craziness perfectly well. As she goes to work, the movie feels to me to take on a more 80′s aesthetic to it with the violence and blood involved. Horror today seems to be a bit more reserved when it comes to this stuff, especially when kids are involved. “Orphan” felt like they took the gloves off and gave the violence a good visceral feel that we don’t get much these days. It never felt like Esther was acting like an evil bitch; she simply was.
Okay, enough spoilers.
“Orphan” surprised me. While it has its faults and some would argue that it technically wasn’t a ‘good’ movie, it was still a lot of fun to sit through once it got rolling. It may feel tough to get into at first but it does reach a point that it starts to pick up speed. Once it does, it slowly snowballs throughout the remainder of the two hour running time to pretty enjoyable ends.
Go see it. It should make for a good Friday night date movie.
Just a reminder, if you’d like to hear some more of my long winded rambling over “Orphan” accompanied by the insight of some other horror confidants, be sure to check out Episode 83 of the Bloody Good Horror Podcast!