Rewind Review: Orphan

Orphan promises, at least conceptually and in the trailer, to be a potential classic of the genre but unfortunately this film was marketed much too well for its own good. However, one would not expect it to be one of the dumbest, lousiest and most asinine films of any kind to be foisted upon the American public this year.

The film starts awkwardly both in acting and dialogue and to top it off in a clumsily handled dream sequence, and at this point it’s hard and uncompelling to start with a dream just for one truly unsettling image of a blood-soaked crying baby. Just because Fellini did and could start a film in a dream sequence doesn’t mean we all should. After all we’re not all Fellini are we?

Okay, perhaps even invoking Fellini’s name in this instance is blasphemous, however, it was to illustrate the apex of what they were trying to accomplish as compared to this lame-brained, stilted mess they presented. Bad is one thing but dumb is another and that comes next. So the dream reveals that the baby is stillborn, a lot of set up for one bit of back-story. Hence, let’s adopt. Their trip to the orphanage starts with Sarsgård delivering two awkwardly written “Snow Orphan” jokes about a snowman. It was just the beginning of a terribly odd, unconvincing, portrayal of this character in writing and performance.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

The sound mix on scare attempts and screams was just too loud and ineffectual and created near humor. The film also decides to incorporate clichés starting with Esther singing “That’s The Story of Love,” in a droll attempt at irony that only makes the film more annoying not just because the singing is flat but because it is delivered in Esther’s subtle yet annoying Russian accent – it’s also only vaguely Slavic until identified, which is also somewhat inaccurate as Eastern European accents are by no means interchangeable; this is more about writing and directing than acting. Fuhrman was consistent with it at least but the accent was worse than stereotypes because it’s milquetoast.

In bad movies even simple lines go wrong like when the Nun informs the couple Esther’s parents died in a fire, their response “A fire?” Yes, a fire. It happens – you watch the news.

It would be wondrous if horror films didn’t feel the need to include gratuitous sexual content. I emphasize gratuitous. This is not about prudery, but common sense. A couple with three kids all in Elementary school, by my best guess, would not canoodle about their kitchen pornographically so that they could get caught. Yet in the world of this movie they do and were caught. Didn’t see that coming. The conversation about “Mommy-Daddy Time” in the kitchen leads us to our first hint at the twist, unfortunately hindsight doesn’t make that conversation or the coital scene any better or any more logical so these little hints are better referred to as “clues,” in quotes, because they don’t really standout as brilliant touches after the twist.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Now we come to the cliché of horror film characters just being too plain dumb to deserve to live and for your edification not enough of the people in this film that should die do. The body count I believe is just three. The parents are a little too slow to catch on. The mother (Vera Farmiga) goes from not suspecting a thing to suddenly having theories as to exactly what Esther’s problem is before taking her to a shrink, the shrink whose character is so dumb and is portrayed so annoyingly we won’t even discuss her except to point out the fact that movie psychologists should not be portrayed as dumb and useless because they’re not necessarily perceived that way and an incredibly brilliant psychologist is a tremendous weapon in a film and has been wielded well by many. The mother’s arc, however, is better than the father’s who is the worst horror cliché there is to the very end: The Doubter.

The Doubter is always the worst character, especially when very involved in the story for this reason: we as an audience are cognizant of the fact we are seeing a horror film so we immediately believe “Something’s wrong with Esther,” or whatever the given doubted fact is, so the slower the characters are to believe it the more annoyed we are apt to become. A great example of an unobtrusive doubter is in Halloween. The Doubter in that film, the Carpenter version, the original, is the Sheriff, Lori never doubts longer than is logical and at one point is lying to Tommy for his own good in her mind as she is doubting her safety. The Sheriff is such a minor character that him trying to thwart Loomis’s efforts at hunting down Myers never gets irritating because Michael and Lori are front and center for a bulk of the film. In Orphan The Doubter was in the family and all too present.

There are also these past incidents that creep up that would make a suspicious mind jump quicker such as some kid she used to go to school with “accidentally stabbed themselves” with a pair of scissors and the house fire that killed her parents was arson. Accidentally stabbing yourself with a pair of scissors, the way that’s phrased, makes it as transparent as saying someone “accidentally” hit themselves in the back of the head with a claw hammer. It’s ludicrous.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

One of the few nice touches was that a picture of the orphanage Esther drew glows in the dark to reveal a fire and deaths. This is quickly negated by having her plaster the walls with drawings and making a glow-in-the-dark pornographic mural, which makes it twice as bad as if the execution of the first drawing was off. The only other highlights are also counteracted by the terrible story but are worth mentioning. In horror film standards Vera Farmiga is very good in this for what’s worth. It would’ve been easier to appreciate her if her character wasn’t a dunce, that shackled her and Skarsgard in quite a few ways. On the other hand Jimmy Bennett’s character always hates Esther and about midway through you want him to take a hatchet to the whole family but unfortunately he doesn’t. He survives and the boy better known as the Young James T. Kirk does get more screen time here and thankfully, for his own sake, is hospitalized but alive in the third act.
Another case of dumbness: Esther gets mom really annoyed, mom twists her arm. Later Esther sticks her arm in a vise in order to break it. Dad believes mom did it. Really? Did you watch mom? Is it possible? I guess. Improbable? Yes. Yet the vise would leave some sort of marks, correct?

Another one: It is discovered Esther stayed at some clinic in Estonia. How? Her picture was online. On an asylum’s webpage? “Look at our crazies”? Why would an inmate’s photo be online? These are just some examples of the excessive demands on our suspension of disbelief that we as an audience are asked to accept. When one is not entertained or scared one can’t forgive such obviously flawed logic.
There actually is more, however, let us cut to the chase. The twist. I’ll give it to them for gambling but here are the problems there: first, the movie was already horrible or not in everyone’s mind so the twist either elevates it or makes it much worse. Even looking back at the scenes that did somewhat set the table like Esther trying to seduce her adopted father it didn’t work on any level. That scene was portrayed callously because the director mishandled it and had it played too innocent by Fuhrman and too passively drunk by Skarsgård, who only really told her off on her second or third attempt. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things had a very similar style of scene but a much different situation and it was handled so much better. It was disturbing, repugnant, powerful and heartbreaking all at the same time and yet you couldn’t not watch it.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Also, the twist is sort of an anti-climax. Is that the kind of modus operandi that makes you say “Brilliant, it practically writes itself?” No, it’s too convoluted. What purpose does that serve really? Is it shocking? Could be. It could also be humorous. As much as it was mocked later for being such a catch phrase no one laughed when they heard “I see dead people.”

A lot of people saw this movie coming out and thought of The Good Son. Well, surprise! It’s not. It’s worse, so much so. If you want The Good Son go rent it, I already have it. Skip this, I wish I did.