Blu-Ray Review: Orphan (2009)

MAY 16, 2024


I recently was a guest on the Screen Drafts podcast where myself and screenwriter Penny Cox had to draft the top 7 horror movies of 2009, which was a surprisingly glutted year for the genre. I could have picked seven films just myself and not included everything that's a "must-see", and I only got three of the seven picks (the way the show works is, since there's only seven slots, you can either have four picks OR only get three but one of them is the #1, so it kind of evens out). Well as you can perhaps guess by now, my #1 pick was Orphan, though for its makers I'm guessing "Being added to the Scream Factory library" is a bigger honor than "Horror Movie A Day guy liked it a lot."

The funny thing is, I re-read my original review and I wasn't as glowing at the time as I often feel now. 15 years ago (Christ...) I said it was a bit too long and I was also mixed on the twist, which surprised 2024 me. I can only assume (and here I'll warn about spoilers if you're somehow still in the dark) I just really wanted a genuine evil child movie and was a bit disheartened that she was an adult the whole time, but whatever the reason was then, I've changed my tune. Not only is it just awesome through and through, but if it WAS just a standard evil kid movie, we probably wouldn't have gotten the equally insane/delightful prequel Orphan: First Kill, which would have to have recast Isabelle Fuhrman (booo) and hire some other kid in order to work since so much time had passed. Plus the "Now we know she's an adult" element gave the movie more areas to explore, whereas a typical prequel about Esther the twist-free killer kid would just come off as a repeat.

As for the length, OK, yeah, two hours for this kind of thing is a bit much, but the time is used wisely. One great thing about this movie is that it'd actually be interesting even if Esther didn't show up (or at least, wasn't evil) because of what's going on with the dysfunctional family unit. The recovering alcoholic mom wracked with guilt over an accident that left her daughter deaf, the dad who had an affair a decade ago and is still being punished for it, the son who is trying to be a rebellious cool kid but is actually a meek soul... this is not the usual "perfect family gets undone by new member" approach we've seen in other such movies. Learning these developments throughout the movie and seeing Esther use them to drive everyone further apart is a big part of the movie's appeal, and it wouldn't be possible if they were making everyone a stock character just so they could get to the fun stuff earlier.

Long story short, its "flaws" are actually strengths, and 2009 me was a moron. It's a shame so many more people read what I was saying back then than they do now!

Anyway, when the film came to Blu-ray it didn't have a lot of bonus features; just a handful of deleted scenes (some pretty good!) and a piece on the sub-genre that failed to mention Cathy's Curse, so it is worthless. For its Scream Factory debut (which is not on 4K UHD, alas), which carries a terrific new transfer along with those original supplements, they've tracked down composer John Ottman to provide an interview that is mostly more of a select scene commentary, playing a scene as is and then he talks about his approach for that particular moment. Honestly, I've seen the movie probably five times by now and I still couldn't recognize a cue in the wild, so this wasn't the most exciting thing for me, but score junkies will probably enjoy.

The only other new features are four (4) commentary tracks by critics and podcasters. As much as I love this movie I don't quite see the need to have FOUR of these things from people in more or less the same line of work, because you end up hearing the same observations, comparisons to the same movies (The Good Son—the very film I compared it to in the first line of my old review—comes up a lot across the board), etc. Also none of them pronounce the director's first name the same way (Hwa-may, Jah-mah, Jaw-may, etc.) so if you don't know yourself you won't get a straight answer here (if memory serves from when I did the junket, it's "Hwa-may") It was also weird how some of them don't even seem to love the movie or know it very well; one guy confesses to only seeing it for the first time to prepare for the job he'd already been hired for, and another pair of them somehow manage to forget that (spoiler) the father is killed during the climax, as they inexplicably spend a minute or two debating whether or not the audience would be OK "IF" he died due to him being an imperfect husband who didn't believe his wife (who they believe to be drinking again, even though it's a plot point that she bought wine but did NOT drink it). Another one notes that in the script Esther was said to be blonde and blue-eyed, "very Children of the Corn." Yeah man, Isaac, that blonde blue-eyed legend.

Some also start nitpicking the movie's logic and even MST3king it to a degree, which rubbed me the wrong way (though it's possible I was just getting commentary fatigue; I doubt they expect anyone to watch all four tracks more or less back to back, but I have a review to write!). It's one thing to make a little joke here and there at a movie's expense, but when it's seemingly the focus—and there isn't a single person involved in the movie to offer a track of their own—it starts to feel like they hired people at random just to fill up the list of special features and make it sound like a better deal. There are of course some good insights on each track, including some information about a "real life Esther" and how she worked with another sociopath to torture some children, and one thankfully points out Vera Farmiga's seeming infatuation with being in evil/creepy kid movies and shows. And as a fan myself, it was nice to hear them all wax nostalgic about Guitar Hero/Rock Band when the son is shown playing a couple times. But overall, I think they could have just had 3-4 critics on one track and the podcast team on the other and had all bases covered, while removing some repetition to boot.

But in a way it's actually just another bit of proof of how good this movie is, that I could essentially watch it four times over a week-long period and not be tired of seeing its visuals (again, the transfer is very good; I usually tend to think there isn't much room for improvement across the same format, but it's far better looking than the original Blu from 2009). And with First Kill kind of reviving it in the eyes of genre fans who maybe missed out back then (or simply didn't get on board due to the twist), with a potential third film on the way, there's no better time to give Esther a first or second chance, and I can't imagine there will be a better option than this disc anytime soon.

What say you?


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