By Gabriel Stoffa
Nowadays a typical horror film relies heavily on guts and gore, slasher scenes and villains who are supernatural in the performance of their psychotic kills to draw crowds. “Orphan,” steps out of the dull and predictable mold that “Saw”–like movies have created for those looking for a bit of fear.
The psychological bent of this story never relents. The characters’ backgrounds and personalities are established in the opening scenes, through nightmarish flashbacks and subtle conversation, before they are dragged to their limits, as an evil as devious as the devil himself tears their lives to shreds.
Kate, played by Vera Farmiga, and John, played by Peter Sarsgaard, are parents looking to adopt an older child after Kate’s character had medical complications with a pregnancy years before, that resulted in her carrying a dead baby inside her for days. They have two biological children: a young boy, Daniel, and a young deaf girl, Max. The family is well-off and appears to live a happy, although slightly tragic, life. Kate and John go to an orphanage to find if a child there will be right for them and meet Isabelle Fuhrman’s character, Esther.
Esther appears to be a creative, intelligent, articulate and wise-beyond-her-years, athough slightly socially-inverted, 9-year-old child. Because the child is so different, and yet, charming, they instantly fall in love with her and adopt her into their family. This storybook event flows perfectly into the chilling events that crop up after leaving the orphanage.
Esther’s non-conformist attitude and intelligence make her an instant target at school for the cruelest creatures this planet has ever known — young children. Their taunts and personal insecurities cause them to lash out unnecessarily at “the new kid” in order to look cool to their peers. As with any good horror movie delving into the realm of childhood, this begins a series of nefarious events ending in pain and the chilling realization that evil does not differentiate by age.
At home, Esther begins to manipulate events around her, causing the strings that hold a family together to become dangerously frayed. Carefully crafted and logical cruelty abounds as she paints a macabre picture that fulfills her sadistic, yet strangely understandable, desires. From trying to force Max to help her commit a murder to threatening to cut off Daniel’s manhood, Esther frightens and awes.
Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance belies her young age and outshines every other actor in the film — the other child-actors doing a fine job as well. “Orphan” keeps the audience interested with some classic startling moments, as well as slightly gruesome displays of violence, and pulls it all off without having to resort to superfluous nudity, bloody shock-value scenes or lame special effects.
The scares don’t stop there, as the horror genre’s ever-looming final twist waits in the wings to make the audience feel extra-creeped-out with that unsettling feeling left in the pit of the stomach.
The directing is above par compared to most horror films. The dialogue and acting aren’t delivered like your average campy fright-fest flick. Most importantly, the story has an old-school Hitchcock presence that makes “Orphan” an eerie date movie or one for just a few friends wanting some twisted psychological thrills. “Orphan” is guaranteed to leave the audience with fear in the late-night hours.