If you were watching TV at all during the summer no doubt you were deluged with advertisements for Orphan. Featuring the tagline of “There’s Something Wrong with Esther,” the film was marketed as a “scary child” type flick…but with little success. Although not exactly panned by critics, the audience for this type of film in July was minimal, with it raking in barely over $50 million worldwide. Despite the poor box office receipts, fans of the horror genre generally perceived it as a fair entry into the genre…and one that certainly had a lot more effort put into the look, setting, and overall tone of the movie than many recent horror escapades.
Tragedy seems to follow nine-year-old Esther. She was orphaned in her native Russia. Her last adoptive family perished in a fire Esther barely escaped. But now the Coleman family has adopted her, and life is good. Until a classmate takes a serious fall from a slide. Until an orphanage nun is battered to death. And until Esther’s new mom wonders if that tragic fire was an accident. From Dark Castle Productions comes Orphan, bringing stunning new twists to the psychological thriller and locking audiences in a tightening vise of mystery, suspicion, and terror. You’ll never forget Esther. So sweet. So intelligent. So creative. So disturbed.
I take issue with this film being much of a “psychological” thriller. While it’s not evident what is up with Esther exactly (and the resulting revelation is a massive pile of “what the hell?”), it rarely plays with your mind too much. Perhaps if we’d seen less of Esther’s freaky side as an audience and more of the mom pondering the girls sanity it would have been more of a mind trip. As is, however, the film is constructed so that we know that there is something wrong with Esther from the very beginning, despite her being a very charming girl from all appearances.
In fact, I have to commend this film on two aspects. The first is the overall look and feel of the film. Not only is the families house an architectural dream, but the cinematography and overall look of the Connecticut setting is just really well done. The bleak winter visuals (probably another reason it didn’t do well in the summer) paired with the overall look and feel of the individual settings of the film was just fantastic. The second aspect was the acting and performances of the film—everyone did such a fantastic job in their respective roles. Vera Farmiga as the lead was a bit hard to adapt to at first, because her character had some very strange tendencies to run and scream at the same time (seriously, she did it like two or three times in the film), but in the quiet scenes you really see what she could do with the material.
But the obvious star of the film was Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. If ever there was a role to twist a young child’s mind it’d be this one. The things her character had to see and do throughout the film was absolutely morbid at times and considering she was 10 or so when she filmed this…it’s genuinely kind of disturbing to think about. In any case her performance is absolutely astonishing, not so much just because she’s got the “creepy child” thing down pat in the film, but also because of how she plays with the rest of the cast. The scenes with Aryana Engineer (Max Coleman) are especially touching, as she seems to genuinely enjoy being the “big sister”…at least until the murdering starts. Then it kind of goes downhill.
As enjoyable as the setting and performances are though…this film is just too long. It’s just a few minutes over two hours and while I appreciate the need to set up the story and characters, it’s almost just too much. It paused occasionally for a joke here and there, which was nice, but it also just took far too long to set up the ending. While a couple of the twists were unforeseen, the film is a very by-the-numbers exercise so why it took so long to happen I just don’t know. It’s almost a shame it de-evolved into a generic horror romp as it was expertly set up to be something much stronger. On top of that the film liked to false-jump you, with a lot of “ohmygodsomeonesgoingtobebehindherwhensheclosesthemirrorandorrefrigeratordoor.” It did this with musical cues as well. Take note that this happened only once and the only time I jumped was the random screaming children in the orphanage when Peter Sarsgaard is walking through it.
While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the film, as character driven as it was, I also can’t say I really found myself getting into it much either. It was easy to connect to the characters and feel their plights, but in the end it took such a generic route out of the setup that I can’t help but feel disappointed. Maybe if it didn’t last two hours and force you to invest so much effort into the story I’d have been less disappointed that it ended like it did. As is the film is worth a Rental–‘tis the season, after all.
Warner has released Orphan on Blu-ray in a standard Elite case with the usual inserts (Digital Copy information as well as a second disc containing it). As is the case with most Warner Blu’s, the film auto-starts so there’s no real menu system and what is there is very brief (as are the extras…which I’ll touch upon in a bit). Also included is a matte cardboard slipcase that slides over the case…but aside from a little mention of the inclusion of an Alternate Ending, the package offers little to gaze upon.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded outing and, as can be expected from a modern film, it looks great. Visuals are bleak so the few bursts of color in the film tend to pop off the screen. On top of that there’s the high level of detail this transfer boasts, which is especially evident in the unique visual angles this film takes sometimes; there’s a particular shot of Farmiga’s character walking on carpet and you could see all the threads of the carpet beautifully. Sadly the TrueHD 5.1 mix didn’t make as much of an impact; early portions of the film are heavy in bass and surround mixing, but for the most part it’s a very center channel driving affair. But then again, as previously stated, it’s also a very character and dialogue driven film so that’s to be expected. As an additional side note, the end credits to this film are really, really interesting; it’s a kind of live action stop motion that’s both genuinely creepy and very artistically satisfying at the same time.
Mama’s Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Children (14:56, 1080p)
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending (4:04, SD)
Yes…that’s very, very pathetic. True the film didn’t do all that well in theaters anyway, but man…those are some slim pickings. There are some bonus features via BD-Live but they weren’t live at the time of this writing. The mini making of isn’t bad and worth checking out, but the alternate ending? Meh. Not any better than what the movie itself ended with.
As with the film this disc is worth a Rental, if just for the visuals…which are really, really good.
Orphan arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 27th.