Published Jul 23, 2009Orphan is one of those oddities that are hard to recommend without spoiling. On the surface, the film is about a couple, Kate and John Coleman (Vera Fermiga and an oddly fey Peter Sarsgaard), who have recently suffered the stillbirth of what was to be their third child. By way of dealing with their tremendous grief, they've decided to give the love they had for their child to someone who "really needs it."
One excursion to a school for orphaned girls later, they bring home Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a nine-year-old Russian girl with beautiful manners, a talent for painting and a penchant for wearing ribbons around her neck and wrists.
Esther seems wonderful at first but soon mom starts feeling uneasy around the preternaturally genteel child. As Esther begins to show her manipulative, sinister colours, Kate must try to convince John that something is terribly wrong before it's too late.
There's a subplot in Orphan about mom's former drinking problem and an accident involving the couple's younger, deaf daughter. It's subtle and well played — the past troubles are hinted at in Kate and John's relationship but not fully explained until the end.
As a slow burn thriller, Orphan has a lot going for it, including the fabulous architecture that seems to be necessary for movies about families being terrorized at home. Sarsgaard plays an architect and the design details in this film (i.e., the fabulous Charles Eames rocking chair in the couple's living room) don't go unnoticed. The open, glassy house set against the dark, snowy woods makes a terrific backdrop for terror but this decent thriller hides a totally gonzo premise and the plot twists and ultimate reveal of Orphan are too preposterous to make any sense.
The film's final act belongs at the tail end of a much goofier horror flick. And the first two acts deserve a more dignified finale. I suppose the film deserves some kudos for having a genuinely surprising ending. Unfortunately it's also completely ludicrous.
Bonus points for one of the creepiest and funniest black light scenes in recent horror history though. (Warner)