Orphan starts with a violent and uncomfortable birthing scene, a clip which immediately hooked me. “Huh,” I said, alternating glances between the screen and my flip-flops, “that’s pretty grotesque.”
The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t expecting a film about a killer child to be so exceedingly violent. I was wrong. Orphan is in fact a pretty gory movie, never losing focus on the kills which drive the plot. It’s a good thing, too, because the lengthy run time makes necessary these action sequences. Once we are thrown into the lives of the couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Saarsgard) we’re following, it’s a dry trek for a half hour or more as we are introduced to the family’s problems and their subsequent adoption of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a unique girl who seems an exact match to her new parents. We’re treated to a lot of rising action as we continue to meet Esther, progressing more or less predictably based on the trailers of the film. Esther has a few strange “quirks,” but she’s an orphan and is still having adjustment issues. Fine and dandy.
But the next part of the film is where I lost a bit of my enthrallment in its plot. Esther is weird, understandably – and when she showcases her more violent tendencies, she becomes dangerous – but she never seems evil or foreboding. In fact, I never saw her as more than a minor problem in the family’s household until she started murdering people.
Some events are blown out of proportion; for instance, Esther likes to lock the door when she takes a bath. Big deal. It’s not that strange – she has just moved into a new house, after all, and wants to keep some of her privacy – but her mom thinks this is just plain weird. Conversely, some parts are underestimated. When Esther’s caretaker from the orphanage turns up missing after visiting her, only the mother questions whether Esther has some involvement with the matter.
To be quite honest, I had a very hard time believing the father character at all, given the fact that he seemed to be blind to everything going on around him. Any attempts to characterize him more than the exposition fall flat (a womanizer? a kid guy? an artist?). His personality is all over the place, and the only thing that stays consistent is his inability to come to grips with the fact that Esther is crazy as shit.
But I can understand, in a way, why it might be hard to take Esther seriously. She doesn’t feel menacing or creepy like more successful child horror movies portray their children. Throughout the film, we know Esther is messed up and we know she does everything that the characters think she’s done. There’s no supernatural tone to it; it’s like we’ve got the evidence and are just waiting for the parents to put her away. Instead, most of Orphan‘s latter scenes are devoted to slightly maniacal actions that, again, fail to deliver more than minor scares. Esther is, let’s face it, trying too hard to be evil. It’s just not in her.
Orphantries to scare its audience, that’s for sure. The frights are posed so that many cliched scares are actually just toying with you, trying to get a rise out of you to get you when you least expect it. The problem with this technique is that many have tried this, and instead of being forward-thinking, people are expecting that the filmmakers are expecting the audience to be tricked. In a roundabout way, it again becomes cliched. Tough to get around, but something that must be pointed out for the film because of its lack of atmosphere.
It’s not all bad, though. There’s some great gore effects here, especially a broken bone that will have many grabbing their arms. Most satisfying, however, is when Farmiga gives Esther a giant slap to the face and then smashes her foot into her face. I’ve never seen a better kick!
Orphan‘s mediocre at best, providing a lot of the same routine with a new twist that’s admittedly kind of cool, but plot elements don’t add up (how is Esther not caught killing her caretaker? how did no one see her shift the car from park to neutral in a crowded school parking lot?) and there’s not a whole lot the film can offer besides a few gruesome kills. It’s fun for a while, but the kid’s just not that sinister. No wonder this Orphan is parentless.
Orphan's mediocre at best, providing a lot of the same routine with a new twist that's admittedly kind of cool, but plot elements don't add up