2009 – U.S.A. / Canada / Germany
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Music: John Ottman
Screenplay: David Leslie Johnson
With Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Aryana Engineer, Jimmy Bennett and Margo Martindale
Story: A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a nine year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be.
For many years, I never wanted to watch Orphan. A genre film, distributed by Warner, so technically a studio, a big one, I was afraid to see a damp squib. The subject was nice enough to be interesting on paper, and have some beautiful names on camera (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard) and even behind it (Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio as producers), but nothing to do. Finally, a friend kinda forced me to watch it, praising how good the movie was when he first saw it at the movie theater. My final argument is denied (Jaume Collet-Serra directing, specialized in action films made in Hollywood with Llam Neeson), and we start the screening. And as soon as the opening scene starts, rather disturbing and trashy (a bloody nightmare where Vera Farmiga gives birth to a dead and bloody child in a creepy hospital), I realized that maybe I was wrong. Because yes, Orphan was a great surprise. With a running time of 2 hours, Orphan tales the time and adds a nice atmosphere (with reminded me of the paranoia trilogy from Roman Polanski), and it does it very well. Several things were even obvious. The directing of Jaume Collet-Serra is extremely simple and works very well indeed, highlighting both the sets (under snow) and the three children of the film.
Because yes, Kate and John adopt Esther, but they already have two children. Daniel will be jealous pretty fast because he won’t have the same attention from his parents, and there is also Max, a mute and deaf girl. But the strongest point about the film and the cast is, of course, Esther herself, the discovery of the film thanks to Isabelle Fuhrman (who was in Cell lately). Only 12 years old when the film was shot in 2009, the young woman literally burst the screen when she is the innocent little girl, but also when she reveals her true nature: manipulative, vulgar, frighting even! In the same shots, in only a few seconds, she can smile on camera and then be much more tougher, and murderous. The young Isabelle Fuhrman is a key element of the success of the film. In the beginning yes, we really want to adopt her as she seems to have all the qualities we could dream about. Then everything changes in a relatively innocuous scene where we feel that something is wrong. With just a simple glance to a student when she first arrives in the classwork, we understand that glance doesn’t mean « Ok I’ll stay away from you » but rather something like « You, you’re going to regret this all your life ». And the tension will go on starting this point.
If Esther manipulates those around her to get her way, sometimes even manages to be the « victim » to return a situation, and to make others believe that the problem doesn’t come from her but from her adoptive mother, she sometimes « explodes ». And Orphan is a surprise on that part too, because the girl isn’t a soft girl, she won’t take a spoon to hit you, but rather use a hammer in your face! Slowly, Orphan recalls us films like the recent The Children, or The Brood. But Esther doesn’t only attack adults, but whoever is on her way. And it’s in these moments that the film offers us some quite disturbing scenes, not hesitating to threaten kids, but with a big smile on her face. As a genre movie, Orphan finally comes at the top of the basket of current production for a studio film, even managing to do something rare: to have a heavy atmosphere. And of course while giving us a few shocks and some violent effects. A complete and solid film, between what it offers us, and a great team delivering the goods. An excellent mix between atmosphere, calm and effects. Much like Esther, changing face when she needs to, to get closer to her goal or when her life is in danger.
A good atmosphere
Some sick moments
A well-built film
Esther, a child so perfect… and so violent
Isabelle Fuhrman, a revelation
Some bad CGI, highly noticed
So: Orphan is a really good surprise, with a successful atmosphere, and some violent moments for a studio film. And it shines thanks to an excellent cast.