PLOT: Kate and John Coleman have seen their share of trouble. From alcohol abuse to cheating, they have been able to stick it out with their two children, one of whom is deaf. But after the loss of their third, they are looking to adopt. After much thought, they final decide that it is the right decision, and they begin searching for the perfect little girl to bring into their family. When they find young Esther, they notice what a strange and awkward girl she is, yet John truly seems to connect with her. But once they bring her home, Kate sees a side of her that is just plain evil. Yep, this little girl has issues.
I’ve little faith in scary kid movies, yet I‘ll certainly give them a chance. But aside from THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST, they tend to be silly flicks that are usually a little too watered down for my tastes. But what about the latest from Warner Brothers called ORPHAN? You’ve seen the poster, and personally, it looks a little goofy. And with that, you see a bunch of producers names including Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m sorry… Leonardo DiCaprio is producing a horror/thriller? With a scary kid? And on many levels, Orphan includes many of those annoying things that all movies of this kind have. There are boo scares, people that should be a whole lot smarter doing dumb things, and even that poor sap of a character who nobody will believe. Did I happen to mention the children in peril? Well, duh, that’s there too. Now you wanna hear the scary part? It works. In fact, it works pretty damn well. This is a violent, kinda disturbing and well acted genre entry that has so much fun with all the clichés, you can’t help but go along for the ride with the occasional squirming in the seat.
The drama follows Kate and John (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who are both hurting after the tragic loss of their unborn child. Pretty weighty stuff for a popcorn thriller, yet not too much for this one. While the couple already have two children, they want to be able to give someone a home and family, in an attempt to fill the void of the tragedy. When they visit an orphanage, John finds a young girl drawing some surprisingly good paintings, and he is instantly charmed by her. And when Kate meets the young girl, she as well takes an interest in her. It is an easy decision as the two feel that this little square peg might fit perfectly into their world. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a young Russian girl with a very unique fashion sense that include bows and fancy dresses, all of which look as though they were borrowed from another decade. But before you can say “little orphan Annie”, things get a little odd.
Really what follows can be found in many a thriller, including HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and what have you. Things start out small, a boo scare, and then something big… rinse, cycle, repeat. But the screenplay by David Leslie Johnson seems to play with the traditional thriller, knowing that you are expecting that once she closes the medicine cabinet, someone will be right behind her. And Jaume Collet-Serra (HOUSE OF WAX) keeps the tension moving while not completely taking it all too seriously. Yet the humor is not blatant, the bad things that happen are really bad things and get pretty vicious. Especially when we find ourselves in the final cat and mouse sequence. This here is much more creepy than you’d expect, especially since the wickedness is especially nasty. I was truly expecting the scares to be cheap and bland, but not so, you get a broken neck, a bloody stabbing, and of course a hammer is put to good use. This is a roller coaster ride that builds and builds, and really pays off.
It would’ve been easy to make this a PG-13 thriller and play it safe. Thankfully, it isn’t, this here is a solid R that still manages to build some pretty hefty excitement. The thing that makes it just a little darker then THE GOOD SON or something along those lines, is really quite simple. But, I won’t go into that, because there are a couple of tricks up Esther’s sleeve. There is a reason that they were able to get into some fairly bloody carnage with this and the violence was much more intense than you’d expect. But telling you why would give too much away. Now when things get nasty, Collet-Serra keeps it that way. He is able to keep it moving quite well, although the first half hour or so have the obvious and sometimes annoying jump scares which grate tested my patience a little. But it truly felt like he knew exactly what horror movie staples he wanted to exploit, and he certainly does. For a movie like this, there was every reason that it couldn’t work, just because most of the material in this “psycho child” sub-genre is dull and bland. Yet this Orphan is far from bland. It is a bloody good time at the movies.
Another major plus is the level of talent with the actors involved. Both Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga are terrific. Yes, Sarsgaard’s John is terribly annoying at times, and you really want to scream at the man, “DUDE! STICK UP FOR YOUR WIFE!!!”, but the man is extremely talented and pulls it off well. As for Vera, she carries this flick with her vibrant performance. This poor woman deals with a whole bunch of crap and she nails it every freakin’ time. I absolutely loved her work here. She is completely sympathetic, even when you wonder if she is going to go completely bonkers. Both of these fine actors deliver, but they have a little competition from Isabelle Fuhrman. Talk about a little girl from hell. She packs a wallop here, as she cascades from innocent, to mean, to murderous, to absolutely insane. If they went for the wrong actor for any one of these roles, this film wouldn’t have worked near as well as it did. While I was sure that Orphan would bring back memories of The Good Son and Hand That Rocked the Cradle, it actually felt more akin to something like THE STEPFATHER or the original CHILD’S PLAY. Surprise, the Orphan is worth seeking out! My rating 7.5/10 -- JimmyO