Sunday, September 13, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer

Kids. You know how scary they can be. In real life, they can be real monsters, the way they run up and down public walkways screaming at the top of their lungs, or cry uncontrollably when they don't get what they want. In the movies however, most kids are portrayed either bratty or devilish.

In Orphan, we're definitely not talking about Kevin McAllister type kids. We're talking about the kind that are capable of hurting and killing people. The kind that you know would spell trouble the moment you see that cold emotionless stare coming from their eyes.

Orphan focuses on a couple, John and Kate Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga). They have two children, son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and daughter Maxine (Aryana Engineer). Maxine happens to be hearing impaired. Recently, Kate had a stillborn child, and is still recovering from that loss. On top of that, she is a recovering alcoholic, and John himself has infidelity issues. The couple decide to adopt a child to help bring some positive vibes into their fragile family. And with that in mind, they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a well-mannered, bright and mature 9 year old girl from the orphanage.

At first, Esther fits in well, as she bonds with Max and despite having issues with Daniel, gets along generally well with her new family. However, it doesn't take long for everyone to realise that Esther isn't as perfect as she initially seems. She wears old fashioned dresses that make her the target of ridicule at school, and she responds violently towards her tormentors. She is cunning enough to manipulate John and Kate against each other, and slowly shows her true colours when she resorts to brutal violence to protect herself, like threatening her siblings and committing murder.

Kate notices how dastardly Esther can be and tries to prove it, but her problems with John hamper her efforts. When Esther puts Daniel and Max in danger and frames Kate for it, Kate has to pull out all the stops to save her family.

Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed House Of Wax, does a decent job in fleshing out his characters. Every member of the Coleman family has a role to play, and they all deliver. Jaume could have improved the pacing a little though, but overall the film doesn't suffer too much from it.

Farmiga and Sarsgaard acquit themselves splendidly as the troubled couple, but it is 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman who steals the show as the evil Esther. When you first meet her, you'd be so convinced that she is such a sweet girl, and then she totally turns to the dark side, and you find yourself wondering where that sweet girl went to. Fuhrman is excellent, and depending on the roles she will get after this, will go a long way in Hollywood. I must also give credit to young Aryana Engineer, who plays Maxine. This little girl knows how to show fear, and her eventual emergence of courage towards the end of the film.

But Orphan isn't without its flaws. It has several plotholes, the most obvious being why nobody in the family ever keeps a close eye on Esther, which allows her to scheme and carry out her evil plans smoothly. And the climax of the film seems a tad overdone.

Oh, and you'd be wondering how a little girl like Esther can do all this stuff, right? Well, that's the secret the film's tagline is implying. The revelation on Esther's background is the film's trump card, and it will tie up all the loose ends you'll be having before you get to the third act. It's not as good a twist as other films I've seen, but at the same time it's not entirely implausible.

A decent thriller, which just might make you think twice about adopting innocent looking kids. (3.5/5)

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