OrphanDIRECTOR:Jaume Collet-SerraSTARS: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer RATING: R RUN-TIME: 123 min ZIMBIO GRADE: A The horror genre's reliance on the evil child should be dead by now. Rosemary's had her baby, the children of the corn have burned through countless soulless sequels, and even the newish, digital demon child (Samara of The Ring) has likely grown tired of her now-stale revenge.
But with Orphan, director Jaume Collet-Serra reveals there's still much to be explored in the old tiny terror, even if it involves toying with all the tools horror buffs know all too well.
Those who have seen the trailer for Orphan may intuit they've already seen the film in one incarnation or another, and they probably have. The premise is basic at best: a young girl is welcomed into a family, bringing with her mysterious disturbances that quickly escalate in gravity.
But Orphan is better than it's own plot. Really. Much of this can be credited to its actors: the seriously underrated Vera Farmiga does a fantastic job as the seemingly fragile family matriarch, Kate, who suspects her adopted daughter of malfeasance but is too flawed (and human) to be taken seriously. Peter Sarsgaard makes good use of his famously calm voice as John, the husband who is compassionate (and therefore clueless) to a fault. And Isabelle Fuhrman, the 12-year-old who brings the intelligent and hauntingly precocious orphan Esther to life, commits a performance that goes beyond the typical big-eyed glower-and-pout perfected by so many other child stars. Fuhrman's Esther, who insists on wearing velvet ribbons on her wrists and neck and has perfected Tchaikovsky, exhibits a feline reserve that is far more terrifying than any demonic possession.
While, as the trailer promises, there is a giant, nearly-preposterous twist to differentiate this take from others, the film is also successful because of the playfulness with which Collet-Serra presents his nearly-hackneyed subject matter. He's so shameless with his references, he invites the audience to revel in the silliness of the film with him: expect the old face-in-the-medicine cabinet scene to draw plenty of laughter.
Despite its sheer silliness, Orphan still compels its viewers to care for the family, to squirm at the unfortunate brilliance of the film's antagonist, to be shocked by the depths of perversion with which the film flirts (without succumbing to the drecks of torture porn that have, for too long now, passed for horror). It's scary, silly, and horrifically funny...and definitely not for children.