Vera Farmiga’s (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) Kate is a recovering alcoholic.
While in a drunken stupor, she did something to lose an unborn baby and permanently damage the hearing of her beautiful pre-school daughter Max. To atone, she and hubby John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt. That brings nine-year old Esther into the family.
The Russian born kid is not a good fit. She immediately wedges herself between Kate and John. With Max’s help, Esther targets the couple’s son, Alex. Esther’s wardrobe is clearly out-of-style pinafores. It makes her a target of school bullies. In true movie psychopath fashion, Esther does terrible things to a classmate who makes fun of her.
Kate — of course — immediately picks up on Esther’s manipulative behavior. John and Kate’s counselor is clueless and thinks Kate’s alcoholism and guilt has made her paranoid.
Eventually, horror-movie formula prevails with death, destruction, long/bloody chase scenes and dead-isn’t-really-dead.
Orphan is a flawed movie with conventional characters. It is has those guilty-pleasure moments that stave off disaster. For one, director Jaume Collet-Serra (2005’s House of Wax) seems to have a sense of humor. The door opens, no one is there, it closes, you expect someone to be there, and they aren’t. The camera follows a character closely as if they’re being stalked. But no one is there. Even by horror film standards the sound is overly loud and when things whoosh by, they really whoosh by.
Isabelle Fuhrman’s Esther also arguably sits close to the top of the list of best kid-horror movie villains. Her dark, kewpie-doll eyes are the perfect picture of machine-like malice. Sometimes, she has a Russian accent. Sometimes, she doesn’t. You almost think that’s on purpose.
And the movie is now controversial, which means an automatic cha-ching at the box office. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is upset. Creepy little Esther, in the film’s best confrontational scene, tells her adoptive mother that it “must be hard to love an adoptive child as much as your own.”
The group, and others that work to place children, worry that it will cast a negative pall over the kids and the process. No kidding. Pressure from the politically-correct crowd got Warner Brothers to cave in so the studio cut the line from the trailer. Some reports I’ve seen say Warner Brothers also tagged a disclaimer onto the credits that encourages people to adopt.
I didn’t stay long enough to find out.
A bigger concern — it seems to me — is wondering why someone would make a movie this bad? Also, why anyone would shell out cold, hard-to-come-by-these-days cash to see Orphan?
If we must make Orphan a political issue, aren’t we more concerned about how much influence flicks such as Orphan have on the real life narcissistic kids we see in schools, malls and stores?
How do films, TV shows and low-rent DVDs in which kids are smarter than adults and sling out one put-down after another, influence what seems to be rampant disrespect for authority of any kind?
Do the characters and the music crammed into soulless stories help create a subculture of thugs, gangstas and taggers that mark territory like dogs putting what they consider to be art on every blank spot they can find.
And when they’re not doing that they’re armed to the teeth driving around neighborhoods spraying each other’s homes with bullets over some disrespectful action or another.
Why aren’t groups like the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute more worried about these social concerns?
I commend the good work of those trying to adopt out children. Most people adopting children are saints. A good friend who is a pastor and his wife adopted two lovely children from other countries. During the weekend, he had the honor of performing the marriage ceremony for their son.
My friend and his wife aren’t likely to see Orphan. And even if they did, and even if others who have adopted children or are considering adoption see Orphan, the “it must be hard to love an adoptive child as much as your own” comment would not sway them.
No offense intended to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and its allies, but you are completely out to lunch. Orphan is not going to change anyone’s mind. See it for what it is, a decent horror flick with an exceptionally good — although very young — villain.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars
Rated R for violence against adults and children, language. It opens Friday, July 24 at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.