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Jaume Collet-Serra
Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Margo Martindale, Karel Roden
Writing Credits:
David Johnson, Alex Mace (story)

Can you keep a secret?

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.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$12.871 million on 2750 screens.
Domestic Gross
$41.573 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 10/27/2009

• Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Orphan (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 26, 2009)

While not as prolific a horror subject as zombies or vampires, creepy kids have been a genre standby for decades. We get a new entry in that field via 2009’s Orphan.

When her pregnancy results in miscarriage, Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) suffers from nightmares and various psychological concerns. Though somewhat reticent, she and husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt a child to add to their existing brood of Maxine (Aryana Engineer) and Daniel (Jimmy Bennett).

They choose Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a rather prim and proper but nonetheless sweet, charming little girl. She immediately hits it off with hearing impaired Max, but Daniel becomes jealous of all the attention his new sister receives. They become rivals, and Esther also runs into mockery and disdain at school.

None of this ends well for the parties who cross Esther. Not that things go much better for Kate or those who attempt to support her, either. As we learn more about Esther, a serious dark side emerges, and spooky weirdness comes along for the ride.

First of all: John and Kate? Seriously? Perhaps it was a coincidence that this film’s characters sport almost identical names to those tabloid reality buffoons, but it’s not a good thing for Orphan. The use of those names for parents creates some unintentional comedy.

Once we get beyond that goofy element, Orphan presents a pretty by the book thriller. Like more horror tales, this one telegraphs its scares and tone a bit too much. In particular, I could live without the opening scene. It depicts one of Kate’s nightmares, and it gets things off to such a horrific start that it doesn’t allow later attempts at terror to surprise us. If the movie concentrated more on Kate’s fragile psyche and left out the graphic material, it could’ve better caught us off-guard when further material of this sort emerged.

Not that Orphan ever leaves Esther’s dark side in doubt. A more subtle film would’ve let her evil emerge more slowly and created a greater sense of mystery. Why not approach the tale from Kate’s point of view and let us wonder if Esther really is a bad seed or if Kate’s just an emotional wreck?

Unfortunately, we’re never allowed to wonder if Esther’s evil or not. She’s clearly a violent nutbag, so that aspect of the tale becomes totally one-sided. It’s never a question of “if” there’s something wrong with Esther; it’s simply an issue of “when” she’ll go off and “what” she’ll do.

That lack of subtlety makes Orphan less compelling than it should be. Sure, plenty of horror flicks trot down an obvious path, but those don’t aspire to be anything else. After all, it’s not like the Friday the 13th flicks make us wonder who’s behind the mayhem.

Orphan aspires to a different genre, though. The Friday and Nightmare on Elm Street films earn their fans due to the nature of their violence. Nothing in Orphan tries to give us those bits of bloody creativity; Esther’s exploits are more appropriate for a little girl.

This means Orphan lacks any of the morbid thrills found in gorier films while it also fails to deliver the psychological terror of something like Rosemary’s Baby. Among famous flicks, Orphan clearly takes most of its cues from The Omen. I never much cared for that flick, largely for the same reasons that Orphan doesn’t work for me: a lack of subtlety or creativity.

At least Omen allowed for the possibility – however asinine – that Damien was just a misunderstood kid. We’re not given the same indulgence with Esther, and the movie suffers for it. We’re so painfully aware that Kate’s on target that John and the others Esther rooks just look like tools.

Because it ensures that we get such a one-sided viewpoint with no psychological uncertainty, Orphan keeps us vaguely interested for only one reason: the possibility we’ll eventually receive some shocking information about Esther’s identity. As it progresses, the film hints at darkness in her past, so we wonder if we’ll get a Damien-style surprise in the end.

Nope. Oh, a twist does occur, but it’s not in the same supernatural realm, and it’s not particularly compelling. No, I won’t claim that I saw this curveball in advance, but that doesn’t make it a memorable one.

Orphan does toss in some fairly good acting. While the film telegraphs Esther’s evil, young Fuhrman tries to add suspense and subtlety to the character. The film won’t allow this, but she does her best. Farmiga also creates a reasonably three-dimensional character; Kate is the only role with any dimensionality at all, and Farmiga adds satisfying layers to the part.

Not that any of this makes a difference. Orphan takes a well-worn genre and fails to explore it in a satisfying way. The movie suffers from its ham-fisted nature and doesn’t allow the material to develop in a natural manner.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B/ Bonus D

Orphan appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Don’t expect an attractive presentation from this problematic transfer.

The film took on a blocky look, and lots of mosquito noise and artifacts cropped up along the way. With a dual-layer disc at the film’s disposal, I was surprised it showed so many compression issues; if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought it was a heavily-compressed single-layer affair. It’s not; it just looked like one, unfortunately, as it suffered from a definite gauzy appearance.

Sharpness struggled as well. The movie usually demonstrated adequate definition, but more than a few soft shots emerged to mar the proceedings. The flick gave us passable delineation and that was about it. Sporadic instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and moderate edge enhancement also appeared. At least the flick lacked many source flaws, as only a few minor specks showed up here.

Colors appeared decent at best. The general murkiness meant that they lacked much vivacity and tended to seem somewhat drab and flat. Granted, the film’s low-key palette meant that we were never meant to find any dazzling hues, but I still thought they looked worse than expected. Blacks followed suit, as dark elements looked muddy, and shadows were too dense. Low-light shots came across as dull and somewhat tough to discern. This was a consistently weak transfer that deserved a “D+”.

At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Orphan proved more successful. Not that it offered a slam-bang affair, as the flick usually focused on creepy ambience. That side of things worked well, as the five channels provided some good sense of spooky atmosphere. A few scenes – a thunderstorm, a car crash – added a little pizzazz, but those remained in the minority. That was fine, as the soundscape created the appropriate environment for the material.

Audio quality satisfied. Speech was warm and concise, without edginess or other concerns. Music showed nice range and clarity as well; the score proved to be vivid and full. Effects also seemed accurate and dynamic. The track lacked the ambition to get a high grade, but it was good enough for a “B”.

The disc includes four Deleted Scenes as well as an Alternate Ending. Altogether, these fill a total of four minutes, three seconds. The first scene features some family bonding at the dinner table; it doesn’t fit because it contradicts the immediate dislike Daniel feels for Esther. In the second clip, Esther tries to foster dissent between Kate and John as she accentuates the temptation offered by their sexy neighbor. It’s an unnecessary sequence, as the final film gives us all we need to know.

For the third scene, Esther almost gets caught as she disposes of her nasty handiwork, while the fourth shows us that John owns a gun. The short clips add nothing. As for the alternate ending, it offers a less visceral finish to the film. It’s unclear where the movie would’ve finished if it’d used this clip, as it seems to negate much of the climax.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Blu-ray Discs, The Hills Run Red, The Box and the Batman: Arkham Asylum videogame. No trailer for Orphan appears here.

Since I didn’t especially care for the much-loved Omen, maybe I didn’t like Orphan because I’m not a fan of the “creepy kid” genre. Or maybe Orphan is simply a clumsy attempt at psychological horror that presents no room for interpretation and a total lack of subtlety. Either way, the film fails to engage. The DVD offers good audio, but it lacks substantial supplements and picture quality seems pretty awful. Both as a film and a DVD, Orphan disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3888 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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