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Friday, December 7, 2012

Day 342: Orphan

Little Orphan AAAAHHHHnnie

Children are either annoying, stupid, or evil. Well, according to horror movies anyway. Rarely do you find a normal, well-adjusted kid in a scary movie. They're usually captured due to their stupidity or lag behind, forcing older characters to put themselves in dangerous situations. Most of the time, I end up cheering for the villain just to shut the kids up. When they're not being annoying or stupid, they're pure evil. Sometimes it's a supernatural evil, be it through possession or perhaps the spawn of Satan. Other times, they're just nasty little shitheads that like hurting things. We've all had one of these kids in our class growing up. I remember having two boys named Ryan in my class and I would always refer to them as “Good Ryan” and “Bad Ryan”. It's this believability in the “killer child” genre that makes it so effective and so scary.

Orphan is a 2009 horror movie starring Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up In the Air) as Kate Coleman and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State, Jarhead) as her husband John. Their third child is stillborn which causes strain on Kate and John's marriage. Despite having a young son Daniel and a hearing-impaired younger daughter named Maxine (Aryana Engineer, Resident Evil: Retribution), Kate and John feel the need to fill the void of their deceased child by adopting. They visit an orphanage where John immediately takes to a smart and talented 9-year old Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman, The Hunger Games, After Earth). Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder, Warehouse 13, The Shield) tells Kate and John about Esther, including that her previous family was killed in a mysterious fire. Max immediately takes to Esther while Daniel remains standoffish. As Esther becomes more adjusted to living with the family, Kate begins to notice strange things about Esther, such as her advanced knowledge of things far beyond her age. At school, Esther is bullied by another girl and freaks out when the girl tries to remove the ribbon that she always wears around her neck. One day on the playground, Esther shoves the girl off a slide, breaking her ankle in the process. Esther claims it was an accident and while John believes her, Kate does not. Sister Abigail calls Kate and warns her that bad things tend to happen when Esther is around. When Sister Abigail pays them a visit, Esther shoves Max in front of her car, causing her to crash. She then brutally beats Sister Abigail to death with a hammer and forces Max to help her hide the body. Kate's suspicion grows, but John still does not believe that there is anything to worry about. Daniel learns of Sister Abigail's death and Esther confronts him in his tree house. She sets the tree house on fire and Daniel has to jump out, seriously injuring himself. Kate eventually discovers that Esther came from a place called the Saarne Institute, which is in Estonia, not Russia. It is revealed that the Saarne Institute is not an orphanage but a mental institution. Who is Esther really and will Kate be able to stop her before it is too late?

She's going to stick her hand in warm water, isn't she? Monster!

Having a murderous child as your main villain is not the easiest thing to pull off. The biggest issue is believability. If you have a kid run around with a butcher knife and overpowering adults, it's just too unbelievable, even in the world of horror. Bloody Birthday is a good example of what not to do in a horror movie. Then you have the good, believable killer child movies like The Bad Seed, The Good Son, and to a lesser extent, The Brood. Orphan falls somewhere in the middle of good and bad killer kid movies. In the first half of the film, Esther's murders are varied and are done in such a way that the audience believes they could actually happen. They are played off like accidents and despite knowing that Esther is doing these things on purpose, we still want to believe her. The second half of the movie is where things tend to drift, from the unconventional to the hard to believe. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed the twist revealing who Esther really is. It was unexpected, but still made sense for the most part. This is around the time, though, that the character becomes more like Jason Vorhees, culminating in a knock-down, drag-out fight. The scene where Esther tries to seduce John is purposely uncomfortable, and while it makes some sense in terms of the story, you can practically hear everyone in the movie squirm in their seats.

In order for these movies to work, the parents are required to be ignorant. In varying degrees, that's OK. Parents aren't always around to see what happens or are quick to defend their child. In Orphan, John is so unaware of what is going on I'm surprised he doesn't occasionally walk into walls. His willful ignorance is too much to bare at times. Perhaps part of my dislike with the character is Peter Sarsgaard's performance. He has a very soft, blase way about him that just never sits right with me. Vera Farmiga is decent enough in her role as the skeptical mother. The real stare is Isabelle Fuhrman as she is able to capture both a false sweetness in the beginning and a cold, methodical hatred towards the middle and end. The violence in the movie is actually pretty good with some nice blood and gore. The viciousness to which Esther commits her crimes is startling and effective. The movie has the standard scares and an occasionally creepiness. The run time of two hours is a bit too much to bear. To put things in perspective, Orphan is 123 minutes and The Shining is 146 minutes. 

M.C. Hammerkiller

Orphan is a decent horror movie that doesn't know when to quit. The first half is fairly entertaining thanks to the great performance by Isabelle Fuhrman and the unexpectedly brutal violence. The second half tends to drift into unbelievable territory which hurts the overall viewing experience. I found every adult in the movie to be fairly ignorant of the world around them creating some ridiculous moments. I wasn't a fan of Peter Sarsgaard's bored performance and was hoping he'd die quickly. The movie's run time is far too long and should have cut out at least twenty minutes. The surprise towards the end is good and the movie does a good job of not revealing it too quickly. While it's not the best killer child movie, Orphan has it's moments and is worth a watch just to see Isabelle Fuhrman own the entire movie.


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