Movie News & Reviews

'Orphan' brutal in many ways

Apparently the trailers for Orphan were pressured into dropping the line where the evil little girl suggests it's harder to love an adopted kid than a biological one.

I'm with their decision to bow to awareness groups all the way. When my foster parents had me digging potatoes out of the landfill with an older potato while they flew their real kids to sunny Acapulco, I never felt less loved. It's not like they locked up my doghouse while they were away. And after that time I told them I could break lots more rocks without my iron chains, what did I get for Christmas? Steel ones.

We don't need horror movies playing on baseless doubts about things we have no control over, like emotions. We need them to be about everyday fears we could easily destroy if we really felt like it, like unmarried men and aliens with a second smaller mouth inside their main mouths. Arts and entertainment are no place for us to be working through our problems, Orphan. That's what daytime television is for.

(Watch the trailer on YouTube)

After their third child is stillborn, Vera Farmiga and husband Peter Sarsgaard are looking to adopt. As soon as they reach the orphanage, they're charmed by Isabelle Fuhrman, a bright, creative girl who paints and is unflaggingly polite.

She seems like a great fit -- until she starts manipulating her new family against itself. By the time Farmiga begins to suspect Fuhrman is a violent sociopath, her husband has completely turned against her, leaving their children with nothing between them and Fuhrman's malevolence.

In fact, Fuhrman is so adept at arranging accidents, tricking adults, and threatening witnesses into silence that it's literally unbelievable. She's either so smart she should forget the whole manipulation angle and just slap together a nuclear bomb in the rumpus room or they're all so dumb she doesn't need to try to kill them in the first place because they'll accidentally drown in the sink next week anyway.

This is explained (eventually; Orphan is 123 minutes long, which in horror movie terms is longer than the sun's lifespan), but it's not like that goes back in time to retroactively unsuck the last hundred minutes. Watching a movie is like being in a dream: if you're woken up in the middle, there's no way to lie back down and start up where you left off, no matter how close you were to getting that barista's shirt off.

When your suspension of disbelief is gone, it's gone.

Too bad because although director Jaume Collet-Serra wallows in a lot of horror cliches (loud noises: you're supposed to scream now), he's pretty adept at handling the family drama. Farmiga in particular acts up a storm, laying the groundwork for something that could have been plenty scary.

Also, you can't fault Collet-Serra for not giving it the old college try, which in this case means showing a 9-year-old girl brutalizing her schoolmates and doing her damnedest to seduce a full-grown man. Brought me right back to the fraternity days.

But the dream was broken a long time before that, and when the basic narrative's that compromised, no amount of positives can set it back on track. Collet-Serra and first-time writer David Johnson flash a lot of talent, it's just going to take a different movie than Orphan for them to make it all pay off.

Grade: C+