When seeing the trailers for this flick, I rolled my eyes a bit- "Oh great, another evil child film. And this girl is too old to really creep me out (sorry, gotta be age seven or younger)." And yet, those bastards in the marketing department managed to hook me with a single line in the trailer: “You’ll never believe her secret.” So alas, on one boring weekday afternoon, with nothing better to do, I caught a matinee of Orphan, and learned Esther’s secret. I gotta say…didn’t see that one coming (my friend however did).
I’m not going to spoil the ending obviously, but let me just say that the twist of this film is just one of many surprising components that make this whole thing work surprisingly well. Let's break down the positives one step at a time...
1) Acting - Getting two solid thespians as the parents was a great first start. Sarsgaard is his usual reliable self, giving a performance that is above par for a film of this genre. Vera Farmiga is good too, though I am getting a bit sick of her playing angry, misunderstood victims (she literally played this exact same character in Joshua). But the real star of this flick is newcomer Isabelle Fuhrman, as the titular orphan, Esther. She never takes the role over-the-top, plays little Ms. Innocent (and then little Ms. Satan) to perfection, and sells her Estonian accent beautifully. Nice choice by the screenwriter, which leads me to…
2) Script - The storyline for this film ain’t wildly original, but at least the screenwriters opted to pack this thing with dark, adult themes and weren’t afraid to shy away from the dreaded PG-13 rating. More importantly, all the children in this film are intelligently written, especially Esther, who the writers wisely armed with more than just a blunt object or sharp knife- they gave her a blunt vocabulary and a sharp mind instead (and yeah. a couple sharp objects for good measure).
3) Direction and Cinematography - The color palates and visuals here are slick, though not in-your-face, which is refreshing. Jaume Collet-Serra does a fine job with pacing and thrills, though he can’t resist the urge to go for the cheap scares. You know what I'm talking about: the potential-killer-POV shots and the Someone’s-Gonna-Be-Behind-That-Door! moments. The problem is, nearly all of them are false alarms, and that act gets old fast. Still, Serra’s work here runs circles around his previous effort (House of Wax). It’s great to see a director learn from his past mistakes and evolve from them.
Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending (4:04) - A few OK (but not scary) deleted scenes, as well as a very short alternate ending that’s nothing spectacular, but at least a tad creepy.
The film also comes with a Digital Copy, which is good since the special features leave much to be desired.