As I’ve said many times before, evil children scare the #&*% out of me! There’s just something extra creepy about kids—having such innocent appearances—being the sources of malevolence, mayhem, and, in the worst cases, even murder. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), in Orphan, is more than among the most evil of children I’ve seen in a film; she is the most evil. With that, we have what is, arguably, the best movie of it’s kind!
As for dreaded spoilers, they’re hard to avoid—especially with a movie like Orphan. There’s trailers we’ve seen before the movie; there’s comments we’ve heard from friends. Then, if that’s not enough, and if none of the latter ever happened, we have the movie poster. On it, there’s a girl, in pigtails, in shadow, with the darkened recesses of her eyes making her all the more menacing, even to the most trusting among us. Around the girl’s neck is a curious ribbon covering something we’re not meant to see! That, of course, makes it all the scarier; a ribbon around a neck often means that, without it, the child’s head will fall off! I know you’ve heard that story too.
Yes! Before you ever see Orphan, you’ll already know that something is far from normal about the girl on the poster, even if you don’t expect her head to fall off. Such a title alone given to a horror film is enough. No. I’m not saying that an orphan is necessarily an evil little monster—of course not. However, logical connections are only too obvious sometimes—and here, for sure. Even viewers “in the dark” so to speak, will see the light in regards to Esther, long before she lifts a finger to do her first evil thing.
In Orphan, we have Esther (now an icon of horror herself), played by the ever-talented Isabelle Fuhrman. Child actors have the extra difficult job of acting because …well…because they’re children. They have chronologically less time to be trained and learn to be good actors, before it’s time to act; it’s just a fact. So, it’s a wonder that they so often manage to act as well as some of the most seasoned and professional adults. And yes, Isabelle Fuhrman is one seriously big wonder of a child actress! At the age of 12, Isabelle nails her part as an insane 9-year old (and something else I won’t mention), with all the finesse and perfection that the best adults could deliver. As a precocious and malevolent child, Fuhrman’s performance is matched by no other I know. In scenes where Esther commits her evil deeds, Fuhrman gives the character a realism that is chilling. Fuhrman’s facial expressions give Esther a look of determination and intent, making her all the more a monster and all the more disturbing. As a viewer, we believe that she means to do what she does with all the premeditated plans of an adult; we can believe that Fuhrman is Esther, rather than an actress portraying her. Therein lies exactly the essence of the impact–an evil child acting just like an evil adult. No, of course Isabelle Fuhrman herself is in no way like Esther, obviously. However, Fuhrman’s ability, especially as a child, to portray such a character with such realism is only proof of her superior skills as an actress at any age. A scene with CCH Pounder, Esther and a hammer comes to mind very vividly at this point!
In a video I watched on Youtube, made by Fuhrman, she addresses a fan question related to the issue of portraying a child killer: “Was it weird having to pretend to kill people?” Fuhrman answers the question in exactly the way I’d expect a professional to do so: “Not really, because once I became Esther, and I removed myself from the character, and it was just Esther, I held nothing back….it just kind of came to me in the moment, as Esther.” (For those of you interested in hearing that from Isabelle Fuhrman herself, I’ve included the entire video below; the part I refer to begins at about the 3:40 mark and ends at 4:14.) This is exactly the type of quality possessed by the best of actors; Fuhrman not only has it, but knows how to articulate it like a professional as well.
Topping off all of the professionalism and perfection, is an added bonus of linguistics. Fuhrman delivers a Russian accent that sounds totally authentic, with no acting or effort detected. Very impressive, indeed! Fuhrman’s performance with this alone measures ten rockets on the Space Jockey Meter, regardless of what the movie scores!
What makes Esther even more dangerous than the typical evil child is her significance in the family who adopts her and the power she has over them as a result. The couple in the movie—Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard)—are vulnerable, suffering emotional devastation from the the stillborn death of their last child. As if adoptive parents aren’t vulnerable enough, the recent death of a child has added reason to be more so than usual. Kate and John excuse Esther from continuing suspicion, often to the point of being unbelievable at times—that is until we remember their past and their desperation.
In case you haven’t yet seen Orphan, I will only say that the ending will surprise you. Right now, you’re probably saying “With all the predictability already mentioned, what could be surprising? She’s an evil orphan who’ll do evil things!” Again, to avoid spoiling anything, I’ll only add that whatever you may expect, will be short of what the film delivers in the end. Trust me on that.
Orphan is rated R for “disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language.” However, “Is it really that disturbing, violent, and sexual?” you ask. Well, let me think about that a minute…YES! (Please notice that the amount of time necessary for me to type three dots is far less than a minute—joke intended!) Yes, Orphan is surprisingly all of those things—violent at times, disturbing lots of times, and even more sexual than one might expect. It’s more sexual than expected, because the orphan herself is eventually part of the sexual nature of the film. In doing so, Orphan flirts with what is unacceptable. When you discover who Esther really is, it won’t be surprising or unacceptable at all. The fact that Orphan keeps this secret so well to the end is another element that makes the movie so exceptional.
From the look on her face, music isn’t the only thing on Esther’s mind.
As for violence, there’s plenty—again even more than you might expect. The violence is often shown rather than implied, making it all the more—you guessed it—“disturbing” as well. Does the violence include blood?” Again, yes, and a lot of that too. When a certain victim is hit in the head with a hammer, there is little left to the imagination. Again, as for “disturbing,” I shouldn’t need to remind you of more than this: the violence is being perpetrated out by a child. Case closed!
Back to acting, it’s impressive that much of the key acting in the film is done by children. There’s the amazing performance of Isabelle already mentioned, along with Jimmy Bennett as Daniel, and Aryana Engineer as Max. Max plays the hearing-impaired daughter of Kate and John and Daniel is the somewhat jealous, preteen son. Aryana and Jimmy match Isabelle’s energy and talent playing their parts, giving the whole movie a much greater authenticity than it could otherwise have achieved. All in all, Orphan is a movie in which the performance of the child actors could make or break it. In Orphan, all children involved, easily succeeded in “making” it.
Vera Farmiga does an excellent job as Kate—the emotionally-damaged, recovering alcoholic, still haunted by the death of her last child. Her performance, which requires much emotional acting, is very authentic and realistic. Without her talent, Orphan could have fallen flat, even before Isabelle Furhman arrived as Esther. Peter Sarsgaard (John), although annoying at times in his role, does an equally professional job. As John, Peter plays the part of a husband we want to scream at and yell “Wake up, and listen to your wife!” However, we have to remember that Peter is playing John as he’s meant to be played, and again, as so many such people really are—annoying as all *&^%, but really like that nonetheless! Kudos to Peter Sarsgaard for so well playing a part that likely annoyed him as well. Overall, the seasoned and dedicated acting of Farmiga and Sarsgaard elevate Orphan to a level it could not have achieved without them.
Oh, and don’t get me started about the part of Dr. Browning, played by Margo Martindale. She is an excellent, veteran character actor who is always believable, no matter what her role may be. (I think I’d believe her if she played the part of an alien from outer space in this movie.) Martindale has the sort of believable presence you’d feel listening to your own mother say, “I love you.” As Dr. Browning, she is actually more annoying than John. “Why?” you ask. It’s probably because she’s the professional character in the movie who we expect to save the day by providing clinical help for Esther—but she doesn’t. Instead, Dr. Browning is…well…I’ll let you see that for yourself too. I’ll only add that Martindale does another awesome job being believable, when we might want to believe otherwise. She also gives personality to a character who might otherwise blend into the background.
CCH Pounder is another veteran character actor who always delivers a solid performance, often playing people you can trust and believe. She does a great job of that in Orphan, as well as I’ve seen her do it elsewhere. Here, Pounder plays the ever-believable part of Sister Abigail—the sister in charge of the orphanage where Esther initially resides. Like Margo Martindale, Pounder’s presence gives Orphan an even greater air of authenticity. Not that the movie needs it, but Pounder helps to reinforce it nonetheless. I have read that David Johnson wrote the part of Sister Abigail with CCH Pounder in mind; that is ever so obvious, as she’s perfect for the role.
I’ve heard other reviewers criticize the way that John is so unwilling to believe Kate, brushing off all of her concerns, thinking it all a part of her dysfunctional past and present. My response is to again, ask why viewers so often want movie characters to do what is logical, when people so often aren’t logical in life? How often have I had someone believe I did something I didn’t do, because of some preconceived (and dysfunctional) notion on their part? Too many times to count! Based on what people consider symptoms of a bad movie, I’ve often felt like I was living a bad movie. But, unfortunately, it was reality! So, for all of you who expect things to be logical, rather than the way they often are, I say wake up! Reality is often stranger than the worst fiction!
Are there any problems with Orphan—plot holes, sundry ridiculous behaviors, and/or various unbelievable events? I say no. There are no moments that made me stop and wonder how the story got from here to there. There are no moments when characters do something that makes me say, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” There are no moments when something happens that couldn’t be part of real-world headlines. This is something that many such movies don’t have—the element of being possible, and all the more scary because of it. Orphan stayed grounded, as a reality that could easily happen.
The only possible issue with Orphan is something that isn’t a problem at all. Earlier, before you have all the facts about Esther, you may, with good reason, find some of what’s happening to push the possibilities of what a child could do. You might say, “How could a child be so savvy as to conceive of such a thing?” or “What friggin’ planet did this child come from?” Yes, you might just say such things and think there’s a problem, but never fear. The movie’s end will come soon enough…and therein lies something that explains it all–something very unexpected, indeed!
From this point, I could include an event by event analysis of all the evil things Esther does. I could also tell you why Esther is insane, providing you with her complete psychological profile…but don’t count on it. Evil things in horror movies are best left to be discovered; telling about Esther’s insanity would spoil too much. As for revealing evil and insanity, the title, the DVD cover, and the fact that this is a horror movie reveals that already! You’ve already been slapped in the face with that a long time ago!
Orphan is on a short list of movies of its kind that delivers its payload, effectively and efficiently, with full force. You’ll be hard pressed to find another orphan more evil than Esther; she’s one you’ll want to see but not adopt. I highly recommend the movie, with no rockets in reserve! Put Orphan on the launch pad today, and check it out!
Orphan stars Isabelle Fuhrman, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Margo Martindale, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer, Rosemary Dunsmore, Genelle Williams, and Karel Roden. It is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, with cinematography by Jeff Cutter, editing by Timothy Alverson, oiginal music by John Ottman, story by Alex Mace, screenplay by David Johnson, casting by Ronnie Yeskel, and art direction by Patrick Bannister and Pierre Perrault.
Below, Isabelle Fuhrman explains how she dealt with portraying Esther as a killer. “Was it weird having to pretend to kill people?” Fuhrman’s answer is as professional as you’d expect from someone as talented as her. It begins at about the 3:40 mark and ends at 4:14. Just slide that little time bar at the bottom to exactly wherever you want it. However, the video is so good that you might just want to watch the whole thing anyway. 🙂
For a description of Rocket Rating 8.5, click on the Rocket Meter above!