2009 // USA // Jaume Collet-Serra // June 13, 2010 // Blu-ray - Warner Brothers (2009)
[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
Steadfastly ridiculous from its opening moments to its unnecessarily prolonged conclusion, and yet still a rather fun, ghastly ride, Jaume Collet-Serra's odd little thriller gets lots of mileage out of the Evil Kid archetype. We know from the outset that Isabelle Fuhrman's Esther—all chestnut curls, lacey ribbon, and icepick glares—is Bad News (even if her dimwit adopted father doesn't), but the exact nature of her schemes is a revelation left for the final scenes. Evil Kid thrillers have long been a favorite haunt for creaky nature-versus-nurture questions, going all the way back to Mervyn LeRoy's The Bad Seed. If Orphan were merely a weary retread of such paths, it would be entirely forgettable. However, this murderous nine-year-old girl is, in fact, a murderous 33-year-old Estonian dwarf. That changes things, no? On the one hand, this twist turns Orphan into just another Homicidal Maniac film, robbing it of the Evil Kid sub-sub-genre's unsettling appeal. On the other hand, Esther's adulthood spikes the film with Freudian voodoo, giving Collet-Serra space to engage with twisted themes that most horror films can't tackle, especially the notion of child as spousal replacement. Orphan has its spatters of brutally graphic violence (I'll never look at a workbench vice the same way again), but its most memorable moments are those the revel in their emotional and visual perversity. Chief among these is Esther's vampish seduction of her adopted father, which is, frankly, about nine levels of Fucked Up. Nonetheless, an audacious high concept can't entirely atone for over two hours of ludicrous implausibles, foolish character behavior, and dreary narrative predictability.