Few things match like “young girls” and “horror”, just ask the Japanese. Even in the Western world, horror films starring children have been quite effective. Quien puede matar a un niño?, Children of the Corn, The Omen, The Other to name but a few. One movie that also wants to be on that list is Orphan, in which we meet Esther, a young girl who spends her life in an orphanage after her family was killed. She’s quite good at drawing and playing the piano, you know. Esther is lucky: the Colemans, a happy couple with two children, want to have a third child and have decided to introduce an adopted child into the family. Esther is lucky, the family is less so. Because Esther isn’t just a normal cute girl… Esther is [ooh ahh, spoiler alert narrowly avoided by SPAT, the Spoiler Prevention Action Team.]
Actually, it doesn’t matter whether you know the truth about Esther or not (not that I’ll spoil the movie for you). It’s quite clear she’s malicious and she doesn’t have the best intentions for most members of the family (or indeed anyone who stands in her way). If you already know why Esther is doing these things, it doesn’t spoil any of the fun… I can assure you, the movie had been spoilt for me. There are movies which are mainly based around the twist and once you know the twist, the fun ends. The Sixth Sense, a movie I’ve been trying to avoid like the plague, is allegedly such a movie. Other films may have their hidden secrets, but the outcome doesn’t spoil the rest of the film. Something Alfred Hitchcock tried to prove in a couple of his films.
Orphan has decided not to be tackled by its twists. While you already know Esther isn’t your regular sweetheart, her new parents John and Kate are still quite unaware, which helps add tension. Esther’s ‘brother’ is scared to death of her, but doesn’t dare to reveal what he knows about Esther. Miraculously, to an extent you sympathize with Esther, mainly because a lot of classmates are a bunch of regular bastards and deserve to be confronted by an Esther-like person. Serves them right, horrible bunch of bullies!
What is definitely less great is that the director (Jaume Collet-Saura) has tried to make his film even more scarier. In fact, he has achieved the opposite. Take the scene where Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) is in the bathroom, early in the film. The medicine cabinet is open, so you and Kate can’t see the mirrors on the front. Then… shock! horror! scary music!… she closes the cabinet… and nothing happens. Later in the film the exact same thing happens and… shock! horror! scary music!… her husband suddenly stands next to her. Oh my, how completely the opposite of scary that was. It’s not the only example, there are even scenes where the camera follows Cate or John (Peter Sarsgaard) and when the character turns around, there’s nothing there. It’s as if Collet-Saura was trying to make a scary movie but ends up with Scary Movie. Luckily, there’s only a handful of scenes like this and the rest is a lot better. Not in the least thanks to Isabelle Fuhrman who is perfectly cast as Esther. (Never thought we’d find a girl that could outdo Jodelle Ferland.)
Had it not been for that handful of irritating scenes, Orphan would’ve definitely ended up in my top five of 2009. Nevertheless, it’s great value, even if you already know what’s in store. Not that you know everything…
P.S. Never try to google the word ‘orphan’ when you’re reviewing this film. Unless you’ve mentally prepared yourself for dozens of pictures of starving orphans all around the world.
P.P.S. Don’t stop reading here: there was a bonus update on Saturday, concerning the best music of 2009 (well, if you’d ask me, of course…).