Sunday, July 26, 2009

It Came From The Cineplex: Orphan

Well, we're in the home stretch of Summer Movie Season 2009, and so far it's been pretty much a bust. There've been a few standouts like "Star Trek" and "Drag Me To Hell," but for the most part we're still seeing the unfortunate fallout from the last year's writer's strike, as the multiplexes are littered with big budget, yet poorly written dreck.

That's why it's such a refreshing surprise when a decent movie comes along.

I heard absolutely no pre-release buzz for this movie, and in fact had never even heard of it until I saw the trailer a couple of weeks ago. It seems to have slipped into the theaters almost undetected. I had extremely low expectations for it, figuring it to be yet another dismal and lackluster entry into the "Innocent Family Takes In Sinister Orphan" genre. But I was very pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be pretty darn good.

The story concerns the Coleman family: parents John and Kate (heyyyy... was that intentional or just a coincidence?), their son Daniel and deaf daughter Max. The story opens just after Kate, who is a recovering alcoholic, has just had a miscarriage. Depressed over the loss of her unborn child, she and John decide to adopt a child to help fill the void.

They visit the local orphanage and meet Esther, a Russian-born 9 year old who is polite, articulate and artistically talented seemingly beyond her years. Taken with the little girl, they decide to adopt her.

They bring Esther home and things go smoothly for a few days, but soon Esther is the target of schoolyard bullies who make fun of her out-of-style clothing and Old-World manner. Back home, Kate begins to notice some peculiarities about Esther as well. She keeps the bathroom door locked at all times, refuses to visit the dentist, won't wear more modern clothing, and can play Tchiachovsky like a concert pianist. Most puzzling of all, she never removes the decorative ribbons from around her neck or wrists.

Things go from weird to worse as those who dare to cross Esther end up injured or even dead. Esther pushes a stuck-up class mate off a playground slide, breaking her ankle. She sets a treehouse on fire with her new brother Daniel trapped inside. And she shockingly and brutally kills Sister Abagail (the head of her old orphanage) after she begins deducing that Esther may not be what she appears.

Gradually Kate begins to distrust Esther and begins investigating her past. She finds out that the previous family she lived with all died in a horrible house fire. Sister Abagail's orphanage claimed that Esther came from a Russian institution, but after contacting them Kate finds out they have no record of her.

Kate makes her suspicions known to her husband and psychiatrist, but of course no one will believe her outrageous claims against poor sweet little Esther.

Eventually, events transpire that finally convince the rest of the family that Esther is just no damn good, but by then it's far too late for them, as Esther goes on another bloody rampage.

I won't spoil the ending here, but I will say it was a twist on the usual "evil orphan" trope that I've never seen before. Best of all, all of Esther's little quirks, like the constant wearing of neck and wrist ribbons, her refusal to visit the dentist, and her artistic and musical talents all add up at the end; there's a satisfying and logical reason for all of them.

I was glad to finally see an R-rated horror movie in the theater again, after far too-many watered down PG-13 outings. There are a couple of glitches, like the grandmother who smiles blissfully while letting her 5 year old deaf granddaughter wander away unsupervised in a busy hospital, or the fact that Kate was able to so easily waltz out of the hospital after being admitted, but I'm willing to cut the movie a little bit of slack.

Bloody, violent and brutal, "Orphan" far exceeded my expectations and ended up being one of the better films I've seen all summer (of course, in a summer filled with "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "Land of the Lost," how hard could that be?). It's smartly written and directed, and doesn't offend the audience's intelligence. The little girl who plays Esther is perfectly cast and quite creepy, even when she's just standing there.

Final Verdict: B. Much better than I expected, and definitely worth a look. Go see it instead of giving more money to "Transformers."


  1. The title says you watched it so other people don't have to, but at the end you say it's worth a look. You should change the title to "I Watched This and Now I Implore You to Relive my Experience: Orphan."

  2. You're right. I was trying to come up with some kind of catchy title so people would know it was a movie review, but yeah, recommending it at the end kind of contradicts the title.

    Ours is not a perfect world.

  3. Yeah I agree with Keith, I thought the title was funny and expected you to bash it. I saw the trailer for this and it reminded me of the "Good Son" with Mcauley Caulkin. The last movie in this genre that I was pleasantly surprised was "The Grudge" that movie freaked me out!

  4. OK, you guys win, I'll change the title ;^)

    I was going to title it "I Watched This On Purpose" but then I saw that used on another blog.

    I'll save "I Watched This So You Don't Have To" for when I bash something.


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