Easily the best studio horror film of the last twelve months, and a sizzling introduction to the smoldering talents of young Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther) and the even younger Aryana Enginner, who plays Esther's adopted sister.
The last semi-decent studio pic to come down the pike was Raimi's Drag Me To Hell, a flick that was more a carnival ride than a movie. It had energy, some knee-jerk scares, and some gleeful destruction and death, but it was kiddie matinee stuff.
Not so Orphan. This one's definitely not for children, and thank fuckin Christ for that. Finally, we get a horror movie that can call itself a horror movie. Horrible things happen to very nice people (adults and children) here and its delivered with cold efficiency.
Writers David Johnson (screenplay) and Alex Mace (story) are the first reason this works so well. They have made the effort to create real people with real life hang-ups and typical relationship issues. The couple (well played by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who adopt the neurotic hellspawn are trying to sort through a litany of psychological issues relating to alcoholism, a miscarriage, and infidelity. Daughter Max (Engineer) has a hearing problem, so she must sign in order to communicate. This specific character trait is used shrewdly once Esther joins the family.
Whether Esther is a bad seed is not the point. We know she is. We've seen the trailers. How far she will get before someone shuts her the fuck down is what the film is about. Watching things go to hell in very interesting ways is what makes the film enjoyable, and tense, and sometimes shocking.
Far be it from me to spoil many sequences that are not in the trailer. Rest assured, for a studio picture, this goes as far as you can go with children in jeopardy. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed the slick but empty-headed House of Wax, keeps a firm grip on the reins of this screamfest and resists the urge to sink it with style and glitz. The pacing is refreshingly natural and deliberate, and the scare sequences are graphic but not heading for the gorefest hall of fame.
Fuhrman, who was born in '97 (making her 11 when this was shot), is a revelation as Esther. It would be too revealing to discuss why exactly she is such a revelation, but let's just say that her maturity level (and range) is staggering.
Aryana Engineer, who plays the mute stepsister of Esther, turns in a performance that is almost equally staggering.
After a weekend in which Orphan competed against Bruckheimer's G-Force, The Ugly Truth, and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the best studio horror pic of the year came in -- fourth.
So the Friday the 13th remake did a $30 million+ weekend while this minor masterpiece did close to a third of that with a script that is at least fifty times better.
That kills me.
Esther won't be happy, either.