Written by Natalie Peck
“There’s something wrong with Esther” reads the tag line to Orphan, the latest offering from House of Wax director Jaume Collet-Serra. After the death of their unborn baby, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt a child from a local orphanage. The couple, who already have two children, take home an angelic nine-year-old Russian girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who has impeccable manners, a talent for painting, and an archaic dress sense. Maxine, the Coleman’s deaf daughter, takes to Esther straight away, while their son Daniel is a little less welcoming to the new arrival. It turns out he might have a point. There is something wrong with Esther indeed.
Kate’s feelings towards her new charge turn from affection to mistrust as trouble seems to follow the young orphan around. While John blames his wife’s paranoia on her guilt over her drinking problem, which caused her to lose a prestigious job at Yale and led to an accident that nearly caused Maxine’s death.
Eerie young children have become a staple of uncanny horror films, from The Omen‘s Damien to the Children of the Corn and the little blonde terrors from Village of the Damned, and we are left wondering how Esther fits into this. The audience is let in on Esther’s antics fairly early on, and as Kate struggles to prove that her hunch is more than just an uneasy product of her imagination, we know that Esther is responsible for the series of unfortunate incidents that beget anyone who crosses her. It is quite clear that she is no child of the devil or supernatural being for she physically carries out her attacks, from pushing mocking classmates down slides to bludgeoning a nun to death with a hammer. However, who she is is kept shrouded in mystery until the final scenes, a twist which may seem obvious to some but is enjoyable nonetheless.
The film uses the classic device of introducing a stranger into a shaky family unit, and the results are as standard. Moments of chilling tension are well played, but the scares are predictable and slotted in at regular intervals in a way that feels too formulaic.Â
The opening scene, in which Kate’s relives delivering her stillborn child in a blood drenched nightmare, is horrific and reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s helpless terror in Rosemary’s Baby. This stands out as a true moment of abject horror amongst an otherwise playful use of genre conventions. The dialogue has a darkly comic tone that helps to moderate the film’s more uncomfortable moments, and it induces as many self-conscious laughs as shocks. Twelve-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman is very convincing as Esther throughout the film, which makes the final revelation even more hard hitting and disturbing.
Orphan is a bit silly, but maintains a valiant effort in trying something original, if slightly ludicrous, with a well-hashed premise. It manages to avoid being underwhelming and clichĂ©d by embracing its own shortcomings and encouraging the audience to follow suit. Little girls with curly hair and dimples have never been so sinister.
Last edited: 30th November 2009
No related posts.