DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: David Johnson • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Joel Silver • DOP: Jeff Cutter • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Tom Meyer • CAST: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder.
Orphan is a remarkable thriller, one of the most sadistic to hit the cinemas in a long time. There have been so many evil children movies that it’s hard for one to set itself apart. This bizarre mix of ridiculous schlock and intense family drama is difficult to swallow but never fails to entertain.
The Coleman family are introduced as a picture-perfect American family. A beautiful house in Connecticut, beautiful parents Kate and John and beautiful children Daniel and Maxine. Kate had recently suffered a stillbirth and in order to soothe that pain, they decide to adopt a child. They find a perfect addition to their family in a local orphanage in the form of beautiful, creative, charming Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl. However, soon after they bring her home they start to notice some strange things about Esther.
What happens next is a series of nasty events that divide the family. The sense of ‘other’ surrounding Esther allows the audience to believe that John could keep excusing suspicious events and slowly but surely start to believe that Kate has gone mad. Esther wears strange clothes, speaks with a foreign accent and has different mannerisms to her American counterparts. This sense of ‘otherness’ is most evident with respect to the Coleman’s eldest child Daniel. He is disgusted with Esther and refuses to tolerate her quirks. Immediately a division is caused in the family.
The remarkable thing about this film is the sense of unease created by domestic dramas. The veneer of perfection at the beginning quickly starts to peel away. The resultant family drama acts as a wonderful way to build tension, as if a murderous child isn’t enough.
The third act is where things start to get really weird! Esther’s true intentions are revealed to the shock of the audience and there’s a killer twist, which in some ways explains the outrageousness of the events of the film.
This film is genuinely creepy with some delightful gore and an ice-cold colour palette that suits the tone of the film really well. The filmmakers clearly went to great pains to create a clinical and very polished world within the film. The design of the Coleman family home brings to mind 1980s David Cronenberg with its grave austerity and chilling lack of comfort. Apart from visually, the film also delivers at a stern, smooth pace. It moves slowly, but never at the expense of entertainment or drama. At almost two and a half hours, this is a slow-burner, but one that ultimately pays off as it reaches its climax.
From the stunning opening sequence to its very bizarre conclusion, this is a striking film, but be sure to check your disbelief in at the door as this is one preposterous story! Ultimately, it is enjoyable and boasts some fantastic performances from its leads particularly a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman who, I must say, must have very obliging parents to allow her to play this extremely risky role. If you want a good slow-burning thriller, there’s a lot to like about Orphan. However, be warned: it gets very, very strange.
(See biog here)