★★★ out of ★★★★★
Kids are creepy, but are they horrific?
I’d heard good things about this movie and figured it was high time I saw it. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra [The Shallows (2016), The Commuter (2018)], Orphan centers on a troubled family wanting to add a third child to their ranks and they’ve decided on going the adoption route. Given the mother’s [Vera Farmiga; The Conjuring (2013), TV’s Bates Motel (2013-2017)] recent history of alcoholism and child endangerment coupled with her lingering emotional instability I’m a bit surprised adoption is still on the table, but what do I know?
They visit an orphanage run by Sister Abigail [CCH Pounder; Avatar (2009), TV’s NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2018)] and are encouraged to wander around to meet the children. John [Peter Sarsgaard; Green Lantern (2011), TV’s The Killing (2013)], the father, escapes to the relative tranquility of the second floor and there he finds young Esther [Isabelle Fuhrman; The Hunger Games (2012), Cell (2016)] painting pictures. The quick-witted little girl with the charming eastern European accent warms his heart. His wife, Kate, appears and is equally won over by the intelligent child. Before you can say “what adoption process?” Esther is moving into their house and meeting their kids.
Maxine [Aryana Engineer; Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)], the youngest, is enchanted by her new sister right from the start. Daniel [Jimmy Bennett; The Amityville Horror (2005), Star Trek (2009)], on the other hand, is far more skeptical. To the point of kinda being a jerk about the whole thing. Or maybe Daniel’s just got better instincts than the rest of his family because there’s definitely something off about Esther.
The kids notice it first on account of an episode featuring a pigeon and a brick, but soon Kate’s getting a weird vibe from their new bundle of joy, too. Meanwhile, John’s rose-colored glasses remain superglued to his face in spite of overwhelming circumstantial evidence and bizarre coincidences. What’s Esther’s end game? Does John manage to free his head from his posterior before it’s too late? You’ll have to watch it to find out!
That is, if you like horror movies that are more thriller than horror. Was The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) a horror movie? Was The Bad Seed (1956)? Truthfully, I have a hard time calling Orphan a horror movie. It’s chilling and it has good tension, but I’d still go more with thriller/drama than horror. It does have some horror elements to it so I’ll cut it some slack, but the Scariest Things is a horror site and I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into if you follow my recommendation.
And I do recommend it! Even if only to watch the two best actors in the whole movie: Isabelle Fuhrman as crazy Esther and Aryana Engineer as her sister, “Max”. Back in 2009 when Orphan came out, they were 12 and 8 years old respectively and they were by far the most consistent characters in the entire movie. Vera Farmiga did a good job. Sarsgaard was all over the map — though, in his defense, you could easily blame the script for his character’s unexpected emotional acrobatics — but it was the two little girls who stole the show. Especially Isabelle Fuhrman. Her eerily calm delivery of her character’s manipulative lines seemed way beyond her years. Not to mention the “Russian” accent she used. Most impressive.
The camera work for the film was great. Interesting angles making even a car leaving a garage look cool. The music was also well done and allowing Vera Farmiga to show off her exceptional piano skills was a nice touch.
Running at just over two hours, the movie could have been tightened up a bit. Orphan starts off with a bang in the form of Kate’s vaguely surreal, rather disturbing nightmare about giving birth and the end of the movie is pants-on-fire, holy-crap-what’s-happening craziness. Towards the middle it seemed to lose focus a bit dwelling more on the drama between John and Kate than it should have, but overall things held together.
While I don’t agree 100% with calling Orphan a horror movie, I do think it’s at least horror-adjacent. With hardly any blood, but plenty of tension and considering the quality of the creepy kid’s performance I would definitely recommend this as entry level fare into the Scary Kids movie category.
Orphan is available for streaming from Amazon. If you do check it out, come back and let us know what you thought! Is it horror? Or do spooky kids not count?