There is nothing more precious in the world than a little child, that is at least until it reaches for a knife and starts to murder your family and friends. If that sounds a little bizarre, it's because it is, more than you can possibly imagine. Orphan, the latest "scary child" film takes the beauty of a family and slashes it to pieces, quite literally, to a mixed effect. It comes from director Jaume Collet-Serra, the man who brought us the awful House of Wax, and although it is certainly better than that film, Orphan is still too silly and unintenionally funny to be considered good.
The picture starts out on a high note, opening with Kate (Vera Farmiga) in a devilish nightmare, still haunted by the loss of her unborn baby. Her life has become a constant struggle to deal with this terrible tragedy, but she hopes to change that by adopting little Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), thus essentially replacing her unborn child and passing all of her pent up love onto her. Along with her husband, John (Peter Sarsgaard) and her two children, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and the deaf Max (Aryana Engineer), they attempt to make a normal life with Esther. However, the new addition quickly begins to tear the family apart, arousing suspicion within Kate who begins to uncover what Esther is really up to.
Esther is like the Hannibal Lecter of little girls, using her victim's own demons against them, delving into their minds and bending them to her own will. However, unlike Hannibal Lecter, who was brilliantly portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, Esther isn't scary in the slightest because Orphan tries much too hard. Look at Harvey Stephens as Damien in the original 1976 Omen film for instance. That story never stayed too focused on him and instead centered around the father finding clues about Damien's relation with Satan. By and large, this is the same story, sans the satanic element, with the parent slowly unraveling clues leading up to a grand revelation. The difference being that this story centralizes the child as the main component, eliminating any sense of question or doubt. Yes, she is evil. You can tell quite easily. All that's left is a routine horror film that plods along for two hours with little suspense or logic.
There's a certain advantage one gets to watching a horror movie with a sold out crowd because it's easier to gauge whether or not it is effective. If the audience is deathly silent and screaming at the appropriate times, you have a top notch thriller on your hands. In Orphan, moments that were meant to scare had my accompanying audience howling in laughter. The subject matter, or should I say the way it was carried out, simply wasn't scary. Being a child, Esther's foster parents naturally take her to a jungle gym where other kids are playing. Here she finds her classroom nemesis and the scene quickly turns into a fairly conventional stalker routine where the evil in the shadows jumps out of nowhere and attacks its victim. Unfortunately, a jungle gym isn't exactly the most ominous of locations.
At times, Orphan relied far too heavily on contrivances that worked at the convenience of the screenplay, including a scene where Daniel talks to his deaf sister Max, despite her ability to read lips and his ability to speak to her through (limited) sign language. He chatters just loud enough so Esther can hear through the walls. What a joke.
But then again, maybe that's the point. Orphan is one giant laugh, although I suspect it's an accidental one. Each actor delivers their lines earnestly, seemingly unaware that they're in a ridiculous film that's about as realistic as my chances of dating a supermodel. Every hollow stare, every evil smile, every goofy plot turn, all were worthy of guffaws, and they all led up to a fairly clever twist, however peremptory and unlikely it may be. But the two hours leading up to this moment are so laugh out loud stupid that the final punch lacks the momentum to land a knock out.
The ironic thing about Orphan is that the calmer moments, where the film explored some real emotions, were far more interesting and worked much better thanks to a couple of great performances from Farmiga and Sarsgaard. I would have rather seen a drama about a lonely foster child adapting to the pressures of fitting in with a new family, exploring her role as the mother's "replacement child," but alas, I was stuck with this laughably bad, yet strangely entertaining horror movie. While I sat there watching this, I thought, "This is just terrible," but thinking back on it, I realize I actually had quite a bit of fun.
This is by no means a good movie and I'm certainly not going to recommend it, but if you find yourself sitting in a packed theater with an unruly group of people able to laugh at its absurdity, you may actually find a good deal of amusement in Orphan.
Orphan receives 2/5