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ORPHAN (2009)

>> Saturday, July 25, 2009

Annie was never this sadistic.

M. Night Shyamalan would be proud. Then again, M. Night was proud of Lady in the Water and The Happening. Why would M. Night be proud, you ask? Because like the movies that he helms on a regular basis, this one comes with a twist ending. Orphan is a film that doesn’t hide the fact that something sinister is going on with the oddly charming Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), but rather boldy states that something is wrong with her - as the tagline proclaims. Not because she looks like Damien's sister nor because she has a creepy Russian accent (which is at times oddly hypnotic and almost polite-sounding), but because she pushes a girl off of the top of a playground slide and breaks her ankle without batting an eyelash. This is of course not immediately, but enough into the film that up until this point you find yourself almost rooting for Esther hoping that everything will work out with her new mom and dad, Kate and John, played respectably by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard.

But what’s with the ribbons around her wrists and neck that Esther wears? And why does she refuse to never take them off? This is the question that plagues you throughout the movie, almost more than wondering why she’s so deliciously evil. It reminded me of an old ghost story I heard when I was a child, about a woman who would always wear a ribbon around her neck and nobody could figure out why. Turns out when the ribbon is removed at the end of the story by her new found lover, her head falls off. Keep this story in mind when you're watching this film. I assure you I'm not giving anything away and for the most part, the twist ending is good enough you probably won’t guess it until the time comes.

Orphan does its best to keep moving at a nice pace throughout the two hour running time. If you’re not intrigued by Esther’s disturbing quietness and neatness, you'll find yourself anticipating what are normally cliché “jumping at shadow” moments - like when Esther’s adoptive mother Kate opens the fridge to grab something. The music queue suggests to stand on guard for Esther to be standing behind the door when it closes. When it does, the space is empty and the film moves along its merry little way. There are many of these moments within the film, and it does get tiring, but never tiresome.

You’ll find Orphan very creepy, quiet and subtle and you'll be surprised at times to find you're watching a thriller rather than just a regular family drama. Granted, it's a 'drama' about adopting a slightly unusual, yet gifted little girl and the struggles a family faces when accepting her into their home. Kate and John are realistic parents, with realistic problems and regular kids - which is all the more reason to feel the fear, anxiety and odd acceptance one might normally feel when blindly welcoming a stranger into their household.

The door is open on this one, as it improves upon the usual demon child genre and doesn’t resort to terribly cheap thrills. Definitely more could have been done with this premise and the idea, as is the case with most films in the horror/thriller genre, but it doesn’t fall too short. My recommendation is you go into Orphan much like you would;ve gone into Snakes on a Plane. Don’t expect anything too serious, and you should find yourself having a pretty good time. Particularly when you hear the line “I AM NOT - YOUR - MOMMY!”

*Still courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


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