REVIEW: ‘Orphan’ (2009)

Boy howdy there is something wrong with Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) in "Orphan".
Boy howdy there is something wrong with Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) in "Orphan".

Have you ever had a surprise birthday party that wasn’t a surprise? You know the kind: some over-eager friend or relative just can’t contain themselves and spills the beans ahead of time. Later at party time, you have to walk in and come up with your best surprised reaction, knowing full well that the advanced warning has sucked all that was special out of the surprise.

Fortunately, it’s doesn’t make “Orphan” any worse of a movie.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it a better one, either.

Orphan is the latest effort from director Jaume Collet-Serra. His previous claim to fame was putting a spear through Paris Hilton’s head in the 2005 House of Wax remake. After watching “Orphan”, I’m fairly certain that high mark still stands. Orphan tells the tale of Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) Coleman who, after the loss of their unborn daughter, seek to adopt a child. While out child shopping, they come across the shy and creative Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She seems like the perfect child for the Colemans, but not long after they get her home, there are behavioral issues and accidents – because it’s all fun and games until someone breaks an ankle. Only after that does Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) reveal, “There’s something wrong with Esther.”

No kidding, huh?

Horror fans will find “Orphan” predictable – sometimes annoyingly so. Many times during the movie, I found myself waiting for the inevitable payoff to a scene or setup, like waiting for the punch line of a joke you’ve heard many times before but are too polite to interrupt. The acting is good – not a clunker in the bunch – with props going out to young Miss Fuhrman for going from zero to stone-cold bitch in no time flat.

If only it were simple enough to judge a movie just on acting alone.

I’m not sure exactly who was responsible for all the gratuitous jump scares. It’s almost as if there was a quota that had to be met so they just started throwing them in at random. Couple that with the overbearing musical cues and it makes for a frustrating experience. While we’re on the subject of frustrating, let’s get to the screenplay. Writers David Johnson and Alex Mace must have studied at the John Kramer School of Tortured Logic. It would certainly explain some of the head-scratchers that the characters engaged in. Of course, I admit that I may have dozed off for a bit and missed something, too.

Ah, and now we get to The Twist.

In my ever-so-humble opinion, a twist in a story should be like a surprise party: it’s got to be unexpected to have its full emotional impact. Telling the audience in advance that there’s a twist at the end cheapens it. When it finally happens, you can either thrown on your best fake surprise face or, like I did after figuring it out early on, shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, it’s about time.” For the studio to have marketed this movie based on “the Twist” says to me that they were not confident about the movie standing on its own merits and had to come out with a gimmick to sell it. It’s a shame because it’s not a bad movie. It will certainly appeal to the “softer” horror fans and folks looking for a good movie to get their girlfriends to cling to their arms on a Friday night.

Can you keep a secret?
“Orphan” isn’t as bad as you might think, but certainly not as good either.
Oh, wait, that’s not a secret.

Joe Lopez
Dubbed, "TerrorScribe" by a former editor, Joe made the conversion to horror sometime in the mid-2000s. Little did he know he'd favored the genre all of his life. When not struggling with short stories, he provided genre film reviews for local entertainment sites and later genre sites who could suffer his cynical views.

It was that same cynicism - and some might say hubris - that lead him to have a brief flirtation with filmmaking. His first two efforts, "Annotated" and "Antes Que Seja Tarde (Before It's Too Late)" both premiered at a local H.P. Lovecraft film festival. A third short, "Survivor Girl" proved to be his undoing though plans are in the works to revived the cursed project.

Born and raised in Dallas, TX., Joe now resides in a small Texas town. Statistics say more dead bodies turn up in small towns that big cities... though he claims to have NOTHING to do with that.
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