November 4, 2009


Reviewer: Jonathan Poritsky
Rating (out of 5): **

I don't really know what to make of a film whose strongest moment is its closing credits (although lifted conceptually from Kyle Cooper's Se7en opening, they really do pack a wallop). Orphan, directed by helmer Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax), spends seventy minutes poking around for a purpose, only to pick up the pace just before the third act shows up out of nowhere. It's a real shame because the film's ultimate revelation is conceptually strong.

John and Kate Coleman (the always watchable Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) are a typical upper crust artistic couple. She, a brilliant pianist and recovering alcoholic, and he, a successful architect with a penchant for emotionally analogous design, live an idyllic life with their two children, a prepubescent boy and a wide-eyed deaf girl. After Kate has a miscarriage, the couple votes to adopt a grown child. Creepily wandering the halls of the orphanage, John happens upon Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) painting in a room upstairs while every other girl is outside playing. Every parent's dream: an awkward shut-in. Of course she comes home with them and then murderous tendencies are discovered. Think The Good Son meets Basic Instinct.

All I ask of a film like Orphan is that it be one of three things: 1) thought-provoking; 2) entertaining; or 3) gut-wrenchingly horrific. Unfortunately, Collet-Serra's film fails on all three fronts. The gore is second rate, the visuals are of the "been there, done that" variety, and the theoretically tense editing falls flat after about the fifth reveal/non-reveal parlor trick. I will admit that the film's big reveal is quite good and clever, but it comes at the wrong time and is trumped by a few other moments that have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. (Non spoiler question: the black light art from the opening credits is great; why is it not capitalized upon?)

The disc has your standard fare deleted scenes and alternate ending. Hilariously, before you get to the menu there is a PSA about adoption, giving the disclaimer that the film is mere fiction and you should not be afraid to snatch a kid up from your local orphanage. I could understand this logic only if it were actually easy to adopt a grown child in this country. But it in reality there is a great deal of red tape, which begs the question why a couple of pushovers like the Colemans would choose that route. Had they adopted a baby then we either don't have a movie at all, or we have a psycho-baby-on-the-lam movie (See It's Alive to quench that thirst). Win-win if you ask me.

Bookmark and Share

Posted by cphillips at November 4, 2009 12:50 PM

Great review, Jonathan.

I had a totally different experience with this film, thought it was beautifully shot and a great splice and dice on buji paranoia. In fact I think it's probably the best horror film of 2009 in terms of coming up with an ending that fulfills the potential in the set up.

Posted by: Erin Donovan at November 4, 2009 1:15 PM

Thanks, Erin!

Well, I can agree with you that it may be best horror twist of '09 in that I really didn't see the ending coming. However, I think I didn't see it coming because the setup is long, boring, and unrelated to the reveal.

My last GC review used the word MacGuffin, so I didn't want to bring it up again, BUT, there are two hugely wasted MacGuffins in this film that really let me down: [semi-spoiler] Esther's ribbons and her paintings. There was a lot of weight put on these, especially her mysterious neck and wrist flair. Even though her backstory turns out to be a surprise, these setups turn out to be status quo. In other words, she's just another nut job.

As for buji (if we're talking about the same word, I usually spell it bougy) paranoia, I guess I'm just over sad yuppies. If there was a stronger focus on physical redemption for Kate, who lives in a world of intangibility, then maybe I could have been swayed. But what we get is too little too late.

And the visuals, well, we won't see eye to eye on that.

Thanks for the input Erin. Sorry to write a supplemental review in the comments!

Posted by: Jonathan Poritsky at November 6, 2009 5:28 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?