Annie, she ‘aint…
It’s a cinematic rule of thumb that having children play major roles in a horror movie makes the film about 50 per cent more scary than it would otherwise have been; would such works as The Bad Seed, The Exorcist or even The Omen have become such classics without their pint-sized protagonists? Young Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra certainly understands this and uses it well and truly to his advantage in Orphan, a horror film that’s successful enough to forgive Collet-Serra’s his 2005 travesty House of Wax.
Even if you’ve only seen the simple yet disturbing movie poster for Orphan, you will certainly have an inkling that there is something very wrong with Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Unfortunately for them, however, Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Saarsgard) don’t realise that anything is amiss when they decide to adopt the vulnerable young girl in order to get over Kate’s recent miscarriage. Although Esther’s dress sense leaves a lot to be desired, she soon settles into the family and making friends with new siblings Daniel (Jimmy Bennet) and Max (Aryana Engineer). But, as genre tradition dictates, Esther soon begins behaving very strangely and, by the time Kate and John work out they may have made a very bad choice, blood is being spilt all over the carpet.
The premise may sound rather glib and, indeed, on paper it’s a pretty standard formula of innocent-looking yet inherently evil child causing chaos. In fact, Vera Farmiga starred in a very similar film, Joshua, in 2007. But whereas Joshua was clichéd, weak and derivative – which probably explains its ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ release – Orphan is refreshing for its skilled execution and genuinely disturbing atmosphere that permeates every scene. And as Esther begins to twist her emotional knife, secrets begin to seep out of the growing cracks in Kate and John’s seemingly perfect marriage and the film reveals itself to be an accomplished psychological horror. That’s thanks to David Johnson’s solid, believable screenplay, Collet-Serra’s shadowy direction and some great performances, most notably from Farmiga and Fuhrman as the two females struggling for control of the family.
And so to the twist… Of course revealing it would spoil all of the fun, but it’s safe to say that it’s perhaps the shocking since The Sixth Sense. You really will never guess Esther’s secret until the jaw-dropping denouement, which manages to be both preposterous and inspired. Hugely enjoyable, Orphan really is one of the strongest and most original entries into the horror genre for some time and, in a film environment packed with remakes, reboots and sequels, deserves to find a wide audience.
Stars Vera Farmiga, Isabelle Fuhrman, Peter Saarsgard
Director Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay David Johnson
Distributor Optimum Releasing
Running Time 2hrs 3mins
Opens August 7