JULY 17, 2009
Omen remake aside, there haven’t been any big studio “killer kid” movies in ages, and the few that there were have been pretty weak. The Good Son, for example - it was rated R, but for what? He kills a pet and says “fuck”. Ooooh. So I wasn’t expecting much from Warner Bros.’ Orphan; maybe she’d cause a car accident or something, but I didn’t think she’d actually kill anyone.
So imagine my surprise when, not even an hour into the (2 hour) movie, she takes a hammer to a woman and kills the ever-loving shit out of her. Yes! A “killer” kid movie with actual kills! And while the body count doesn’t get much higher (one more kill, though a fairly surprising one), Esther is a vicious little bitch. She attempts to kill both of her siblings on several occasions, threatens to castrate the brother (“I’ll cut your hairless little dick off before you even know what it’s for”), brains a bird, stabs a guy to death... it’s pretty goddamn brutal. There’s also a taut scene where a girl who bullied Esther at school is inside of a giant playground castle/house thing. Because it has corridors and doorways and such, it actually feels like a typical stalking scene that would occur in a real house, only now with children. It’s an interesting visual, and ends with the little girl getting tossed down the slide and breaking her leg. Again - Esther’s not all talk and no action like some of her killer kid brethren.
But even without Esther the film packs a punch. The opening nightmare scene is more horrifying and disturbing than anything in the Nightmare on Elm St. films ever presented for a nightmare (the fact that it actually RESEMBLES a dream, with unexplained character/location changes and such, doesn’t hurt). And then later there is a terrific bit that plays on our understanding of cinema. Vera Farmiga pulls up to a red light and begins daydreaming as she spies a pregnant woman walking across the street. She keeps watching for a while, and then we hear a car honk. We all know this means that she’s daydreamed past the light turning to green again, so she starts driving toward. And then BAM! she narrowly misses getting side-swiped. It is then that we see the light, which is still red - the honking was unrelated. Great misdirection.
Speaking of instant identification, there’s a scene later on when Esther first comes to live with them, and they are all giving her gifts. As the scene begins, you can hear Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” in the background, and despite the lack of a visual clue, I instantly knew it was Guitar Hero II. Sure enough, they finally cut to the other side of the house where the brother is playing the game instead of joining in the festivities. He then tries to get his dad’s attention because he’s doing really well, but the dad (Peter Sarsgaard) is focusing on his new daughter and couldn’t be less interested. In the dad’s defense, “Surrender” is the easiest song in the game and the kid is only playing on Medium. Thus, the scene is somewhat botched for GH fans, because why would anyone be impressed with doing good on that? The kid should have been running through “Through The Fire And Flames” - THAT would sell the notion that the dad wasn’t interested in the kid’s achievements because he was too busy paying extra attention to another kid.
The dad is the one who blindly accepts Esther’s excuses for strange occurrences, while the mom gets suspicious. This is fine by me, as it allows Fermiga to have more screen time. She is one of the most beautiful actresses I can recall, and a terrific one to boot, so I was happy to see her carry the film. It’s familiar territory for her (Joshua), but in that one she was kind of crazy herself and spent most of the movie in hysterics and moping around. Not the case her - she’s the pro-active one, and by the third act she’s completely untrusting of Esther, which leads to some great physical moments. She frantically drives through a snowstorm, gets to smack Esther in the face, swears a whole bunch... it’s a kickass performance, and it certainly didn’t hurt my crush on her any. And if you enjoyed her “washing machine” scene in Running Scared (one of the most underrated films of the decade), you should enjoy a similar scene her, in the kitchen. The lady likes her household appliances.
Unsurprisingly, Vera’s character is also the one that finds out Esther’s secret. Much has been made of the twist, and no I won’t spoil it here. I just want to say that it was a bit goofy and somewhat deflating, but the film as a whole was solid enough to that point to allow me to give it a pass. There is another critique I can level at it, but to do would be heading too far into spoiler territory. Maybe when the film comes out on DVD I’ll edit the review. At any rate, when Vera sees what Esther had in mind, her reaction is one of the best hilarious reaction shots in horror movie history; on par with Joel Moore’s classic “Oh you gotta be fucking KIDDING ME?” when a sudden rainstorm douses the fire he just set on Victor in Hatchet.
Besides that, the only complaint I really have about the film is that it’s a bit long. There are a few too many scenes of Sarsgaard being presented with overwhelmingly damning evidence of Esther’s guilt, only to ignore it. Not only does it stretch out the film, it also makes his character seem kind of stupid at times, which I don’t think was the intent. Taken out of context, his rationales are often believable for the incident in question; but 3 or 4 in a row? Open your eyes man. And yet at the same time, things often seem to move too fast; there’s a line about Esther being a “perfect angel” when she’s with the father, but at that point we had never seen the two of them alone together. This makes it a bit harder to gauge how much time has gone by as well.
But otherwise, it’s an unexpectedly solid film. The child actors are all terrific (something that could easily kill a film of this type), the violence is as shocking as it’s supposed to be, and the tone is right on the line between creepy-sinister and trashy fun, which is fine by me. As a great man once said, “Recommended!”
What say you?