Rated R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language, 123 minutes
"Orphan" provides a few jumps but stale horror
I couldn't help but think during the new horror film "Orphan" that the adoptive parents names are John & Kate. Where the plus 8? There's been plenty of creepiness in the news lately with the Gosselin family, though they're far more interesting than the family in the pale horror thriller "Orphan," a mediocre uninteresting and badly written combination of "The Omen" and "Bad Seed" rolled into one very bad little girl who needs to be locked up rather than spanked.
John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga), parents to two small children, lose a third in childbirth and decide to adopt an innocent, fresh-faced young Russian girl named Esther (newcomer Isabelle Fuhrman) from the local convent. Bad move. Esther turns out to be quite evil indeed, ripping apart this already damaged family; Kate's alcoholism and John's infidelity don't help, not to mention their 12-year old son (Jimmy Bennett) is a bit rowdy and their youngest, Max (Aryana Engineer) is nearly completely deaf. Esther turns the family upside down until it leads to a final, shocking climax that can only lead to tragedy.
"Orphan" is a plodding, uninvolving attempt to essentially update the "Bad Seed" story with far more contemporary complexities and shows what a bad script can do with decent actors. It starts out well until we're dragged into the banality of the family drama and Esther literally goes wild at every turn. It's no wonder that many adoption and foster parent organizations are throwing a fit over "Orphan," it makes them look just as bad as Esther. It's hard to believe that the adoption agency wouldn't run some sort of background check on such a troubled girl instead of waiting until she's living with her family.
"Orphan" does have a few decent jumps and some aspects of the story are creepy, but that doesn't really add up to a great horror film. In addition, one of my favorite actresses, CCH Pounder, is considerably underused (i.e. Esther gets to her way too early in the film and quite brutally) by Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose biggest production to date has been the awful remake of "House of Wax."
Farmiga and Sarsgaard are both intriguing actors, but the script doesn't give them much to do. The more memorable scenes come from two young, new actresses; first, there's Fuhrman, who makes for a truly wicked child, and cute, curly blonde Engineer, who's quite adept at playing the younger deaf sister (her scenes with Fuhrman are the most frightening ones in the film).
"Orphan" goes on way too long and becomes repetitive - OK, we get the point, she's a nasty young girl - now what happens? A pretty shocking twist at the end that you won't see coming and while fun, doesn't really belong in a film that lacks potency and genuine scares to begin with. "Orphan" tries to be fun but takes itself far too seriously and is a disappointment considering the premise and the acting talent. Outside of a few jumpy moments, you'll be bored.