Orphan (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
viewed: 11/12/09

While there’s a good deal of buzz going on about the film Paranormal Activity (2007) that is out in the theaters right now, the low-res version of a horror film, the much pooh-poohed, though actually also not-so-badly-reviewed Orphan (2009) has recently made it to DVD.  I had hoped to make it to DVD in time for me to watch it at Halloween, but the best laid plans….

Orphan, while certainly not necessarily Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) or some great new thing, is a relatively rare phenomenon in and of itself, an interesting and not half bad horror film where it’s rather doubtful that you’ll guess the film’s conceit that drives the story.  And it has some rather decent acting by most of the primary characters, notably Vera Farmiga as the mom, Peter Sarsgaard as the dad, and the relatively remarkable Isabelle Fuhrmann as the orphan…”from hell”.

A nuclear family survives a series of traumas including an accident that leaves the daughter deaf, the loss of a child in the womb, and the mother’s recently overcome alcoholism, and decides to adopt a child to place the love they have somewhere, bestow it on someone.  Of course, they pick Esther, a supposed Russian immigrant with a nuance of an accent, a knack for painting, and a pathological screaming desire for murder.  Good choice!

I don’t want to ruin the story, so I won’t go into the twists of plot or even the events, but rather say that it plays with violence and children and misplaced trust and misplaced doubt almost as psychotic as Child’s Play (1988) in which a child is blamed for the murders committed by his Satanically-possessed doll.  There are many weird tropes, children in danger, killed or almost killed, children having to use deadly force (even the good ones), nun-killing, child abuse, and all sorts of semi-psychological manifestations that carry more weight than the false shocks of music playing, tension building, and then,…oh, there was nothing behind that door.

The cheap little startles, not even scares, show that director Jaume Collet-Serra hasn’t made the step to the next level completely as a horror director, but there is more going on here than in probably 98% of the rest of the horror films from 2009.  And yet that may not be saying much.  He did direct the 2005 version of House of Wax which I heard was a little more pleasing than you might expect, even more than the scene in which Paris Hilton gets killed (I still haven’t seen it).  So, maybe he will mature.

Certainly this film could have been better, but for a contemporary Hollywood horror film, it had its merits.  And Isabella Fuhrmann, who looks a bit like Ally Sheedy crossed with Christina Ricci as a pre-teen, she’s certainly got something going on more than simply her striking and occasionally creepy visage.

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