The movie feels like a two-hour (yes, two hours!) lesson on how to bore an audience to tears.
Clearly the production team wasn’t paying attention when the marketing materials for Orphan were sent out with the tagline, “There’s something wrong with Esther.” If they had noticed, they would have seen how easily “There’s something wrong with Orphan” will occur on the tongues of audiences and critics. Actually, there are a lot of things wrong with Orphan. They are too numerous, in fact, to be able to give the full attention they deserve in this one review. If you decide to see Orphan (which should only be done either because you lost a bet or because you want to know if you can actually feel brain cells dying), please approach the movie as a master class of what not to do as a filmmaker.
The plot, if the movie can be said to have one, centers on the Colemans, John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga), an upper-class married couple whose true misery is hidden by the image they project, with a beautiful house on a hill and a Lexus parked in the driveway. Kate recently had a miscarriage, which we find out about in the unnecessarily grotesque and morbid dream sequence that opens the movie. The Colemans have two other children, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Maxine (Aryana Engineer), but they still have so much love to give so they decide to adopt another child.
Instead of trying to adopt a newborn or infant (which is what, I can only assume, a grieving mother would want), the Colemans adopt a nine-year-old girl from Russia named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She is intelligent, well-spoken and very sweet, so the Colemans decide to ignore the fact that Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) and the orphanage have virtually no information about the type of environment Esther came from or what her family was like. No matter to the Colemans, they just want to embrace her as their own.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed the Paris Hilton-starring atrocity House of Wax, has taken what might have been simply a predictable and bland quasi-horror movie and turned it into one of the most hilarious movies of the summer. The audience was laughing too much at the action and performances to be scared by the overused horror techniques that Collet-Serra attempts to employ. The pathetic efforts to scare the audience are similar to the first time a child gets his hands on a camcorder and “discovers” that you can make something disappear by stopping the camera, removing the object and pressing play again. The child thinks he is doing something groundbreaking and the parents just have to nod and say, “Wow. That’s cool. Good work, honey.”
Collet-Serra is so wrapped up in his shiny toys that he forgets that he is also responsible for getting his actors to turn in at least moderately convincing performances. Sarsgaard and Farmiga are both talented actors with solid films behind them, but here they look bored and confused, as if they are unsure if Collet-Serra is serious about the tone of the film. The film could have been a forgettable summer movie and no one would fault anyone involved. Instead, Collet-Serra takes everything (the violence, the melodrama, the violins on the score) so far past what is necessary that the movie feels like a two-hour (yes, two hours!) lesson on how to bore an audience to tears.
The only redeeming aspect of Orphan is the performance by Fuhrman as Esther. The 12-year-old actress clearly didn’t need any help—and wouldn’t have found any—from Collet-Serra, and almost looks as if she is in a totally different, and much better, movie altogether. Fuhrman is a natural on screen and pulls off the ridiculous dialogue and pathetic story better than anyone else who appears in the movie. Unfortunately, even a genuinely impressive performance like hers isn’t worth the pain of sitting through a movie like Orphan. | Matthew F. Newlin