Warner Bros. // 2009 // 123 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 28th, 2009
There's something wrong with Esther.
There's something wrong with this movie, too.
John and Kate Coleman want to adopt a kid. Despite the pressure their marriage is under and the fact that they have two kids already, they're convinced it's the right thing to do. So they visit the local orphanage, browse the wares, and settle on Esther, a precocious nine-year-old from Russia.
The Colemans fall head over heels and bring Esther home. At first it seems like good times for everyone, but Esther begins to show signs to all but the most oblivious bystander that she's seriously @#$%-ed in the head. Mayhem and violence ensue.
If the creepy kid horror genre is in need of resuscitation -- as the accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette suggests -- it's not going to the kick-start it needs from this goofy affair. Orphan takes every suspense terror cliché ever crafted, jams it into two hours (which btw is thirty minutes too long), adds a diabolical little child, stirs, and half-bakes the concoction. Any breathing bipedal organism with modest brain functions will almost certainly see every beat coming miles away...save for one: The Big Twist, which I sincerely doubt you'll predict, but only because it's absolutely ridiculous.
And that's all I'm going to say about it. There is no way I am going to blow this one for you. (Editor's Note: Actually, he already did. Don't listen to the October 24 episode of The Friday Filibuster, in which Dave coerces Mac into revealing the twist.) If, for some reason, you decide to slide money Orphan's way, you'll just have to experience that moment for yourself...or with someone you love.
The build-up to the reveal is standard-issue horror fare. The monster of the week this go-round (that would be Esther) engages in the familiar escalation of malevolent acts. She starts out with some animal violence, works up to injuring a kid, moves onto the emotional screw job of the parents, until she inevitably graduates to attempted homicide. Needless to say, there's only one person who sees how deranged this crazy-ass little girl is, and no one believes her, despite the mounting evidence.
The chief offender is John Coleman, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Seriously, this dude sets a new standard for Horror Movie Dumbass. For some reason he is completely enamored with this creepy little Russian girl -- even when she rats him out for flirting with the buxom neighbor! -- ignoring his wife's desperate warnings, his kids' jarring personality changes, and a growing body count. Esther is the killer and deserves the audience's scorn, but as far as I'm concerned, John is as much to blame for the devastation.
Then you've got Esther, played by Isabelle Fuhrman. She's an okay heavy and radiates some genuine unpleasantness, especially when she slathers on the make-up during a hugely awkward seduction scene. But after the third or fourth time she pulls a total douche move, I got annoyed. Come on Kate, just call in child services already! Or at least ground her! In the end, the filmmakers call in another reliable genre convention, imbuing a diminutive actor with superhuman strength and invulnerability to traumatic physical attacks. At least the final showdown is relatively entertaining. Completely predictable, but satisfying nonetheless.
Orphan on Blu-ray is a treat. The transfer (1.85:1) isn't the most flamboyant, but that's a stylistic choice. The picture quality has it where it counts, in resolution and cleanness. Some of the darker sequences, particularly the finale, grains out a bit, but it's minor. This HD treatment looks the part, and sounds the part, too. However, like any terror film, the audio hits come in bunches, during jump scares and the big-ass culmination. The TrueHD 5.1 mix is a worthy complement to its video presentation. Extras are limited to an HD making-of documentary and a handful of deleted scenes, highlighted by a weird alternate ending.
Setting aside its memorable and stupid plot twist, what remains is a generic, cliché-ridden suspense film. If you're in the middle of a strained marriage and are considering adopting a child from the former Soviet bloc, I think you'll get the most terror out of this. Everyone else -- nah.
Guilty. Here's some gruel.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy