Orphan (2009)

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?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. Really suprised to hear good things about this! Looking forward to your review.

  2. Excellent, looking forward to this one! Hey BC, whats the deal with Fango for 2010?? Have you talked to Ryan, are they canceling it??

  3. going on saturday night. very excited!

  4. FUCK YOU, BC! Here I go, reading a review of Orphan on BD when in the second paragraph the guy pretty much shouts spoilers from the movie! I wanna read a goddamn review, not the fucking best parts of the movie. Excuse the language, but I just got so pissed. I was excited to see the movie, but I hate fucking idiots who spoil the movie.

  5. Glad to hear it has some bite to it. I was going to skip this one but I'll have to check it out.

  6. I dont consider anything that occurs in the first half of a movie to be a spoiler, especially in this day and age when the film's trailers give away entire films (not necessarily this one). Esther turns murderous pretty early on, so to not mention it in the review would prevent me from really discussing the film at all. It's no different than saying "Michael Myers kills people".

  7. Well, I never saw the movie... plan on seeing it now... the review was awesome. Actually I wanted to thanks you for that Dorthy Mills review.. never heard of it before and then randomaly saw it online... I looked it up and it sent me to you.. I probably would've never watched it if I hadn't googled... You've got a new fan... I will most deff. be looking out for more reviews from you.

    Thanks again

  8. Hey BC,

    ****************HOLY SHIT THIS COMMENT HAS SPOILERS!!!! AGGGH!!!!!******************************************

    Okay... that should suffice.

    I liked the movie a lot, and not to pat myself on the back (because I didn't think it was that hard to call) I basically had the twist/explanation pegged after seeing the trailer for the first time.

    Except I had envisioned it as being more of a supernatural thing. Like, Esther is some sort of witch/creature/cursed kid/thing that has been alive for centuries and never ages, forced to globe trot from home to home, family to family (almost like Let The Right One In, just not a vampire). I actually would have preferred that to the "genetic disorder" (or whatever the fuck) explanation.

    .. and I wouldn't be surprised if the supernatural angle was part of the story at some stage. Possibly before script rewrites or test audiences tinkered with it.
    I mean, the set up makes sense. She sings that old-timey song, carries around an ancient bible that's falling apart, and wears turn of the century clothes. I don't care if she's from eastern Europe, that sort of staging is leading me to believe the big reveal has her age at 133, not just 33.

    All in all, I enjoyed the movie and agree with your take on it. (I too appreciate the ballsiness of this level of viciousness on display in any horror movie involving kids. Enough with these safe, pandering, candy-assed, PG-13 faux-horror snoozers.)

    ..just curious as to whether you might have also initially pegged this as more so supernatural fare.



    Yeah i figured initially that it was supernaturally based, mainly because most of dark castle's films seem to turn out that way. i started suspecting the truth somewhere around the discussion over her fear of the dentist.



    - dude, amazing ending, i don't even care. they made that little girl LOOK like a fucking grown- ass crazy woman, i was so impressed i glazed over the fact that its a retarded twist at best.

    some salient points--

    *it seems to take an awful long time for anyone to notice that CCH Pounders' car is in a ditch on a seemingly main road. People just don't care about nuns anymore :(

    *i found it funny that the mental hospital that Esther is from was so blase about her truth--- "oh yeah sorry about that she's really like 40"

    * with her history of so many other families you'd think at least one "daddy" would have gone for it

    * the fact that peter saarsgard entertains her the conversation towards the end instead of being freaked out-- "well, things are hard, we love you but not like that" etc-- is amazing. no one is ever that drunk to think that a situation such as that would be "ok".

    i think this movie was fabulous and give it an A++ and will buy it.

  11. ***************Generic spoily spoiler spoilington spoiler warning*******************

    a) I'm not sure that thinking she's a vampire/witch/creature thing that's been around for hundreds of years is "figuring out the spoiler".

    b) The scene with Sarsgaard at the end was truly uncomfrotably creepy and his reaction WAS too subtle, but at the same time... You've got a 9 year old (you think) adopted daughter acting weird. Ok, REALLY fucking weird. But how are you SUPPOSED to react? Is he supposed to start beating the shit out of her? Is he supposed to run away screaming? Or should he, being the girl's father, gently but forcefully tell her that what she's doing is not OK?

    I mean, in a circumstance that we're talking about (and yeah, I realize I am way overthinking this fucker), couldn't this just be seen as an overactive Electra complex? Should Sarsgaard have gone all Carrie's Mother on Esther? Maybe, but if you're a caring father (especially one who thinks his wife has gone crazy), the last thing you probably want to do is freak out if your adopted daughter acts weird. And let's remember that this guy can easily see how his daughter would identify him as a saviour figure, what with him pulling the adopted mother off of the girl after the mother plowed her full force in the face...

    Either way, I absolutely enjoyed the shit out of this fucking movie. One of the main reasons I ended up seeing it was this review, and I wasn't disappointed. Even guessing the twist (which had more to do with the fact that I knew there was a twist than to do with predictability) partway through, I enjoyed (and squirmed while) watching it unfold.

  12. This movie was amazing...one of the best horror...why did you put some spoilers?

  13. Wow, do I ever disagree with you on this one. I saw the movie with my mom (horror buff and MiSTy), and I quite literally couldn't stop laughing. You mention the dad's character seeming dumb, and he was--also his acting was some of the most wooden I think I've ever seen. He acted exactly once, and that was while drunk, and even then he swung back and forth between 'I'm drunk and wobbly' and 'This is my best impression of a cement wall.'

    **************HERE THERE BE SPOILERS******************

    Also, the whole thing could have been prevented with a single Craigslist post from Esther. I'm just sayin'. No deaths, she could get dental work, and she and her 'father' could live happily ever after.

    The whole end (after Esther's taken off the control-top hose and the Ace bandage) was blurry and annoying; their use of two different actresses for the kid (one for the body and one for the face) got really irritating really quickly.

    As far as I know, straighjackets literally can't leave scars like that...

    Wouldn't the doctor have noticed something about her wrist when he was setting her broken arm? Or, you know, have been able to note that this wasn't a little kid's arm? He's a medical professional, and if you're going to explain your 'child' killer with a medical condition, at least give the rest of medicine a little more credence.

    Max was great. She's going to be horribly mentally scarred and need years and years of psychotherapy, though. I was frankly hoping that Daniel would get killed off; he was a right jerk.

    ***********************END SPOILERS*********************

    Luckily, when we went to see this, there were only a couple of other people in the theater, and they shared our opinion that we could never recover the time we'd wasted on Orphan. Give it a shot if you want, but I found it laughable at best.

    Disclaimer: I mean no offense and I'm not a serious horror buff; this movie (to me) deserves to be ripped to shreds. Maybe I'm not well-versed in horror... but shouldn't it scare me, instead of making me laugh?

  14. I wanted to kill the bitch so bad!!

  15. This movie would have gotten a 10/ 10 from me if Esther ended up being a tranny dwarf. Seriously, I watched the last half of the movie wondering if the kid was a dude. I wanted her to be wearing the choker to hide an adam's apple, and I wanted her to refuse to wear jeans so as not to show her little man bulge. Ditto with the locked bathroom. It would have made the daddy love that much creepier. Otherwise pretty good flick.

  16. Damn , I really loved that seducing-part ...

    * sigh*

    I wish I was Esthers father ...


    Great movie 10/10

  17. Tall F'n Joe--that's twisted. I like how you think. :D

    Agree that Peter Sarsgaard's character was hella dumb.

    And loved your Guitar Hero comment.

  18. finally saw it after literally fighting my firend to not tell me the ending (apparently wanted to save me from the garbage that was oprhan even tho he had neva seen it) and i was pleasently surprised wiht it all around solid film. id give it a 8.5/10 wulda got a 9 but i found the ending (while not movie ruining) kind of unneeded. Loved the snowy setting reminded me of another really good killer kid movie the children. The actress who play esther was AMAZING, and menacing in a way i havent seen in a while.

  19. eyooh...
    i wish you people would stop getting so happy about how hot a SPOILERALERT
    12 year old(that's how old Fuhrman is) playing a 9 yr old, pretending to be 33 yr old is.

    it's really sick....

  20. Did you know that the girl who plays Esther was 10 to 11 years old when this film was made?!

    I think that's a little more impressive than the scene with the Guitar Hero. Here's a hint: that scene wasn't about the video game, it was about a son losing the attention of his father, establishing Esther as a manipulative bitch, and the father's delusions. It was the begining of the degradation of the family.

    How did you get this far reviewing movies when you notice details that were not important to the make of the film at all?

    Also: SHE WAS 10! Holy crap! Isn't that amazing!?

  21. Huh? I understood the point of the scene perfectly fine, I even provided the context of it. I was just making a joke about the song being played. Any Guitar Hero fan reading the review (as I assume Sadako is, above) would appreciate the joke.

  22. I'm with anonymous at August 6, 2009 6:20 PM -- not really into creepy kid films in the first place and it wasn't a horrible film (far better than a lot of crap out there) but it didn't warrant the copious amounts of glowing reviews out there. I didn't find it scary at all but I did find it maddening at times and unintentionally funny. But Vera is very, very hot so for that reason alone, watch it.

  23. Finally got around to seeing this. I was surprised by how solid the movie was. Also, the ending was spoiled for me going in (coincidentally because of a special on TV that you, BC, were on. haha) and I think it might have actually helped the movie.

    There were a few eye rollers, a few were outrageous but most I could just chalk up to the characters being peculiar (such as them fucking in the kitchen, naked, while the kids were in the next room). The movie was strong enough that I could shrug them off for the most part.

    One thing that nearly made me fall over was the scene after she smacks Esther. The doctors race over to her immediately and put her out with sedatives. Its not a goddamn mental ward. I'm pretty sure they have no authority to do that sort of thing, let alone have the sedative on hand and ready in a five second time frame.
    That especially bugged me because not only was it ridiculous but the ending hinged on that scene. It wasn't simply a throwaway.

    As you said, the movie was a little overlong, too. All in all, though, it felt pretty tense throughout and had some surprises and solid performances (a movie starring kids as central characters that isn't completely unwatchable is a big plus in my book). I dig it.

  24. I really liked Orphan. Fuhrman gives a good performance as Esther and is both creepy and menacing. I quite liked ths twist.It was original and wasn't what I was expecting and lifted this film above the ordinary 'just another killer kid' movie.
    Cool movie and I'm ldisappointed i missed it on the big screen.

  25. Finally saw this, already knew the twist but still enjoyed it.

    The only thing I didn't particularly like was the way the explained the twist.


    It's like they had this great idea for a movie, even a great twist, but didn't know how to present it to the audience so they eventually just gave up and said "ok we'll just have some random guy explain everything in one quick scene".

    Yeah I know they hinted at it earlier with the dentist thing and the locked bathroom thing and obviously the neck/wrists thing, but still, after all that work making it a mystery as to the real truth behind her, to have some dude on a phone just so "oh yeah here's your twist" just seemed a little lame.

    Maybe it would have been different if I didn't already know the twist, but even with that knowledge I still loved the movie and thought she was an awesome character, and as BC said, she legit killed people and it was violent and that especially made this movie awesome, no cheap PG-13 stuff, this was a real R rated movie

  26. I knew the twist but it was still a fun ride, if a little too long. And even as a "spoiled" experience (I spoiled it myself by reading blog reviews past the "spoiler" warnings) there are still surprises in store. Someone said they thought that the twist would be that when her choker was removed her head would fall off!


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