Orphan (2009)

Film review: Orphan (2009), directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

The Coleman family are meant to have a third child, but baby Jessica is stillborn. Her parents, instead of trying for another one or simply leaving it at two, decide to adopt. They go to an orphanage run by nuns and come across a 9-year-old Russian girl with a talent for painting: Esther (Isabelle Fuhrmann, great performance, wouldn’t want to meet her alone on a dark and stormy night). She seems like a good idea. WRONG!! (Well, this is a horror film, what would you expect? Happily ever after?)

John (Peter Sarsgaard) sees no wrong with their new daughter, but his wife Kate (Vera Farmiga) soon has her suspicions – as do their oldest biological child Daniel (Jimmy Bennett, the son from No Ordinary Family). Youngest child Max (Aryana Engineer) takes to her new older sister quite readily. After all, Esther is quick to learn sign language … because it’s both convenient and useful to have an impressionable and deaf younger sister when you have homicidal tendencies.

And because Kate starts having suspicions and getting more and more hysterical, the less people believe her. After all, Esther is so well-behaved, even if she does wear really weird clothes.

One of the nuns from the orphanage phones up to check how Esther’s settling in, and Kate tells of a playground incident, “which is probably nothing”. However, Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) realises something, and is starting to check around … which is just about the last thing she’ll ever do. Shout out: Genelle Williams as Sister Judith. Both Williams and Pounder are currently starring in Warehouse 13 on Syfy.

As horror flicks go, I haven’t seen loads of them but even I can tell this is fairly formulaic. You know what’s going to happen most of the time. For instance (this won’t be a spoiler if you’ve seen any horror films ever), you know how it’s standard to have the hero(es) believe they’ve defeated the baddie, and then next thing you know OMG THE BODY IS GONE? Yeah, it has that. I even exclaiemd “duuh!” at the telly when it was revealed to the audience. But of course that was going to happen. They didn’t make absolutely frickin’ sure she was dead, did they? Because they never do in horror films.

I was wondering what the exact cause of Esther’s errrm antisocial disorder stemmed from, i.e. if it was supernatural or just psychological, and without mentioning what it actually is, I could say that in a way, you could probably guess it, because The Plot Twist (of course there is one of those) didn’t feel like that great a surprise.

Creepy? Oh yes, it was creepy. Excellent example of manipulative behaviour that chilled my bones and made me feel slightly sick. And probably gave me a headache too. (Maybe HSPs and horror films are a bad combination. Starting to realise that now.) It’s not a bad film, though. Sets a dark and eerie tone – let’s face it, homicidal children is always going to be creepy – and neither outcome nor causes are perhaps exactly what you’d think.

The female version of Damien (that’s what she looks like) sure knows how to make you feel uncomfortable and Orphan does what it says on the tin. But I’d say it gets lost among all the other horror films of a similar ilk – such as, but not limited to, The Omen trilogy – and not terribly memorable. Peter Sarsgaard looks like he’ll be great to snuggle up next to, though, when it’s cold and snowy outside. Just leave the scary Russian orphan at the door … preferably on a different continent.

3.5 out of 5 ultraviolet fishtanks.

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