October 30, 2009

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“Orphan,” Warner Brothers’ deliciously demented recent updating of the vile-child genre, slashes its way onto Blu-ray and DVD this Halloween. Although horror fans familiar with its long list of movie predecessors will likely anticipate some of its initial storytelling tricks, “Orphan” features a truly twisted third act twist that should make it a surprise treat for even the most wintered horror fan.  My full review after the jump:

orphan_movie_image_vera_farmiga__peter_sarsgaard.jpgSpeaking of winter, the first thing “Orphan” gets right is its snowy Connecticut setting. Now, I don’t know what it is about snow and horror, but the mix is the cinematic equivalent of a tasty blood red cherry snow cone (see vile-child classics “The Shining” and “Let the Right One In” for further proof). Suffering beautifully in this winter wonderland is the icy eyed Vera Farmiga, who plays a young mother haunted by the stillborn birth of her daughter. In an effort to heal, she and her husband, played by Peter Sarsgaard, decide to adopt a child. They end up choosing a preternaturally mature Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), despite warnings that her last adoptive family died in a horrible fire (and ignoring the fact that Russian’s are the go-to villains of recent cinema). Soon after bringing Esther home, accidents start happening. Natch.

Of course, the secret bad behavior of the vile-child is never a match for a mother’s intuition – even an adoptive mother’s – and Kate is the first to suspect there might be something wrong with Esther (besides her Victorian-era clothing). Kate’s suspicions are met with resistance from her husband, who fears she’s relapsed into alcoholism, and her other two moppets, who have been bullied into submission by their charmingly black eyed new sister. The dramatic strength of all this interfamilial conflict is largely due to Vera Farmiga’s naturalistically intense performance, which finds a perfect foil in Isabelle Furman’s theatrically sinister one.

orphan_movie_poster.jpgTurns out little Esther’s got a demented plan to integrate into the Coleman family that transcends the usual adopted child scenario. I don’t want to reveal much more for fear of giving away the movie’s shocking third act twist, but let’s just say once Kate discovers lil’ Esther’s big secret, it’s womano-a-womano in a throw down that builds to the now classic camp line “I’m not your fucking mother!”

Someone ruined “Orphans”‘s big secret for me months ago (okay, okay, I ruined it for myself by looking at themoviespoiler.com, but that’s only because those “There’s Something Wrong With Esther” billboards were such an infuriating cock tease!), so it’s a testament to the movie’s strength that it still had me on the edge of my seat, jaw firmly planted in lap. I guess that’s what a snowy setting, strong acting and ridiculously bold storytelling will do.


Bonus material includes a few brief additional scenes and a so-called “Chilling Alternate Ending,” in which little Esther descends the grand staircase of the Coleman house in full Norma Desmond mode. It’s a more unintentionally hilarious than “chilling” ending.


“Orphan” is a deliciously twisted updating of the vile child genre that should prove a viewing treat for horror fans this Halloween season.

“Orphan” is rated R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language. It has a run time of 123 minutes.

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