Watch the first half hour of Orphan, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a family film about a mother overcoming a miscarriage through the adoption of a nine year-old orphan girl. Early scenes are brightly light, full of primary colours. The titular orphan, Esther, seems perfect – bright, talented, friendly – if …unusual.
Orphan is no a light-hearted drama, of course. Esther’s weirdness quickly progresses from quirks like not removing the ribbon around her neck to murdering nuns with hammers, and the colour drains out of the film (by the time we reach the climax, it’s practically a black-and-white movie). Her adoptive mother (Vera Farmiga) gradually begins to suspect Esther’s true nature, but as is the tradition in such films, no-one believes her until it’s too late. The film has enough shading to not feel clichéd, whether it’s the real sense of history between Farmiga and her husband (Peter Sarsgaard) or the inescapable sense of dread that oozes from Esther, thanks to an astounding performance by twelve year-old Isabelle Fuhrman.
The film never surpasses its genre limitations (you’ll have a pretty good idea of who lives to the end, for example), but it’s a sterling execution of the form.
9 thoughts on “Orphan (2009)”
I think the big reveal at the end does surpass its genre limitations. The movie went from merely “pretty good” to “classic” status in about 2 minutes. 🙂
That’s fair – that twist was actually spoiled for me before I watched it, so it didn’t hit me with any real power. I imagine it would have been pretty fantastic going in unspoiled. I still think it’s a great genre film – basically I just wish they’d had the balls to kill off the son, as it would have made the film much darker and more effective while signalling a departure from cliche.
Oh yeah that would have been better, especially since he was such a spaz. lol. How did you get the ending spoiled?
I can’t remember exactly – I think I either read a review (or someone told me) that described the film as “mediocre with a great twist” so I went to Wikipedia to check it out, not thinking I’d actually see the film! I’ve done the same thing with The Vanishing, a film I’ve yet to see. Not my finest moments!
This movie surprised me when I saw it. I was not expecting much but it delivered. The bit where she killed the pigeon with the brick was a little unusual though…
It’s definitely a film that has – from what I’ve read, anyway – a mediocre reputation, so I went in with low expectations as well. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a great genre film.
I liked the bit with the pigeon – even though I knew where the film was going (because I’d been spoiled on the twist) it was a good way to have her be a little weird in a way that was plausible for a nine year old who’d experienced tough times, while hinting at her darker side.
One of my favorite thrillers of last few years, Isabelle Fuhrman was amazing here!
Yes, it’s an amazing performance! I’m really looking forward to her work in a few years if this is what she’s doing at only twelve!
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