Director – Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast – Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennet, Margo Martindale, Karel Roden, Aryana Engineer
Release Year – 2009
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film is the newest addition to the “killer kid” horror sub-genre that was non-existent for quite some time (since “The Bad Seed” and “The Omen”) but has found footing lately with this film’s predecessors, “The Omen”(2006 remake), and “The Children“(2008, also on my Top 10 Horror Movies Of 2008 entry). I went into this film with mixed feelings after hearing some positive buzz on this film, but I of course kept my distance from heading in with high hopes due to the fact that this is a Hollywood feature film(never depend on Hollywood for horror), and expected the film to be toned down a bit. Well…I left the movie theater fulfilled, and surprised at what I had just seen. So far to date, I believe this flick to be the most brutal “killer kid” film to date.
The plot follows John and Kate Coleman as a married couple who recently lost what would have been their third child, and are now looking to adopt a child to fill that void. At a local school for orphans, they meet their dream child, the nine year old Russian girl named Esther. She is immediately welcomed to the family, but as she begins to integrate to their way of life they begin to notice problems with the little girl. Soon enough, “accidents” begin to happen to the people around Esther. This seems coincidental, until news of Esther’s dark past reaches Kate Coleman. Thanks to her previous troubles with alcohol, her husband John does not believe a word she says. Alone in the matter, Kate must now do everything in her power to stop Esther, and keep her children safe.
I was impressed with this film, for a number of reasons. First off, Jaume Collett-Serra’s direction in this film was excellent, blending atmosphere and the film’s tone perfectly. The large wooden home the majority of this film takes place in gives a very dark, solemn feel to the film. With large rooms and dark spaces, this home gives that “uneasy” feel right away, especially when you consider how many hiding spaces Esther will have if she so chooses to use them. To add to this, the home is surrounded by frozen land, miles away from the city. Therefore, there is really nowhere to run outside of the home, and if a desperate call to “911” were to happen, it would still take some time for the first responders to get to the scene. Another element that left me impressed with this film was the film’s pacing. For a film just a tad bit over two hours in length, this film never once dragged. It takes a good 40 minutes before anything really “happens” in the film, but the development during those first 40 minutes is enticing, and is required to build the “innocence” of Esther’s character…at least in her parent’s eyes. Now for what I liked most about this film…the brutality. I was very much impressed with how awful(in a good way) Esther become as the film progressed. She went from causing accidents that merely left the person with a broken bone, to straight up killing the person, and not in quick fashion. The brutality shown from Esther’s character is what really sets this film apart from other “killer kid” films, and shows that maybe Hollywood does have some cojones when it comes to horror. Films like “The Bad Seed” and both versions of “The Omen” really did not have much brutality from the kids in the films. The kids merely used “other means” to get their evil deeds done. The Children, a UK film that was released last year, was a fresh breath in the “killer kid” scene because the kids actually did KILL, and very innocently at that. Orphan puts all these films to shame in this category of brutality(although I believe The Children‘s brutality is better because the kids are half the age of Esther in Orphan), and is sure to please the gorehounds out there who think that a “killer kid” film cannot “deliver the goods”.
Now, aside from all this surprising praise I have given this film so far…it is not without it’s flaws. I biggest gripe with this film is it’s use of cliché character elements that I have seen way too many times in these types of films. The use of the wife’s alcoholic past to cast more than a shadow of doubt on her accusations regarding Esther, and the husband’s naïve reluctance to believe anything she says has been done time and time again. I understand there has to be some type of “conflict” involving the “parents” of Esther, and this seems to be the easiest way to go in order to obtain that conflict. Although it is effective, I was really hoping to see something a bit more original than this overused tactic. Remember in Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors where Kiefer Sutherland’s ex-wife won’t believe a word he says because he had an alcoholic past, and because she won’t believe him their children’s lives are in jeopardy? Sound familiar? Hm…sound like…Orphan?!? I could name countless other films that use this same tactic, but let’s move on.
How was the acting in this film? It was pretty well done, and none of the child actors really fumbled their dialogue of expressions at all. Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance as Esther was very well done, and I can see her continuing the “creepy girl” characters for years to come. The character of Esther was very well done as far as character development, from “innocent and lovely” to downright “brutal and manipulative”, you could really feel that Esther meant business. Her pale face surrounded by her dark hair haunts all of the nighttime scenes she is in, perfectly blending in the dark shadows and only showing the evil in her face. Michael Myers anyone???
Lastly, the film’s ending sequence was highly enjoyable, and definitely had one of the better “twists” I have seen in recent years. Right off the back you feel that there something “off” about Esther, but the explanation coming at the end of the film is most likely not what you had in mind, but BETTER.
Overall, this film is a fresh breath in the “killer kid’ horror sub-genre and is sure to please horror fans alike. I recommend this to those who want to see Hollywood succeed at giving us a shocking horror film.