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Thursday, July 26, 2012


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.

As for dreaded spoilers, they’re hard to avoid—especially with a movie like Orphan.  There’s always the trailers we’ve likely seen somewhere before the movie; there’s likely the comments we’ve heard from friends and the like, telling us about it long before we see it. Then, if that’s not enough, and if none of the latter ever happened, we have the cover of the DVD (or Bluray) box.  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 (the movie, that is), you’ll already know that something is far from normal about this girl, even if you don’t expect her head to fall off.  The title alone given to a horror film is enough from the start, for me.  No.  Wait just a minute!  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 evil ever 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 well, because…well…because they’re children.  Let’s face it, children 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 nailed 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 truly chilling.  Fuhrman's facial expressions and movements give Esther a look of determination and intention that makes this child monster 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 believe that Fuhrman is Esther.  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 where CCH Pounder is the recipient of Esther's wrath 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 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 this professional perfection, and as an added bonus, is a Russian accent Fuhrman delivers that sounds as authentic as Russian accents really are.  In other words, it's a real Russian accent, with no acting or effort detected.  Very impressive, indeed!  Fuhrman’s performance alone measures ten rockets on the Space Jockey Meter, regardless of what the movie scores!

What makes Esther even more dangerous than your 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 often 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.

If 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.  You’ll see what I mean in the end; I’m not about to tell you.  I’ll only say that it flirts with but never crosses the line for what is acceptable.  When you discover who Esther really is, it won’t be surprising at all.

As for violence, there’s plenty of that—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 fair amount 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”, need I remind you of more than this: the violence is being carried out by a child.  Case closed!  Don’t let the kids watch this one!

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 who we’ve already talked about, there’s 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 where 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 character, does an equally professional job of playing it.  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!  Just playing the part of such a character deserves an extra rocket, as far as I’m concerned.  Kudos to Peter Sarsgaard for so well playing a part that likely annoyed him as well.

Oh, and don’t get me started about the part of Dr. Browning, played by Margo Martindale.  Margo is an excellent, veteran character actor who I always enjoy seeing.  She’s always believable, no matter what her role; I think I’d believe her if she played the part of an alien from outer space in this movie.  Margo has that sort of believability you’d feel talking to your own mother (or someone who you trust, hopefully also being your mother).  As Dr. Browning (and playing her part to perfection), Margo 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 with some professional observation about Esther—but she doesn’t.  Instead, Dr. Browning is…well…I’ll let you see that for yourself too.  However, I’ll only add that Margo Martindale does another awesome job being believable, when we might want to believe otherwise.  Margo 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.  In Orphan, 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’s logical, when people so often don’t do it 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 own part?  Too many times to count!  Based on what people often 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 were no moments in the movie that made me stop and wonder how the story got from here to there.  There were no moments when characters did something that made me say, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”  There were no moments when something happened that couldn’t have been part of everyday, albeit extreme headlines.  This final quality is one that many such movies don’t have—despite all the extremes, Orphan stayed grounded, as a reality that could easily happen.

The only problem with Orphan is something that really isn’t a problem at all.  (Yes, I did seemingly contradict myself in the same sentence.)  You see, earlier, before you have all the facts about Esther, you may, with good reason, find some of what’s happening to be pushing the possibilities of what a child could do.  You might say “Now 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 end will come soon enough…and therein lies something I’m not going to tell you.  Yes, if you haven’t seen Orphan yet, now is the time.  If only to find out what I’m talking about, now is the time. :)

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.  Besides, you wouldn’t really want me to do that anyway.  Evil things in horror movies are best left to be discovered; telling about Esther’s insanity would also spoil too much.  So I’ll leave it there.  Oh, and for those about to accuse me of spoiling too much already by saying Esther is evil and insane, hold on just a minute!  Remember the title, the DVD cover, and the fact that this is a horror movie!  We’ve already talked about that.  You’ve already been slapped in the face with that a long time ago!  Have fun!  :)

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!

Starring Isabelle Fuhrman, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Margo Martindale, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer, Rosemary Dunsmore, Genelle Williams, and Karel Roden, Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Cinematography by Jeff Cutter, Editing by Timothy Alverson, Original Music by John Ottman, Story by Alex Mace, Screenplay by David Johnson, Casting by Ronnie Yeskel, 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.


ONLY IF YOU'VE ALREADY SEEN THE MOVIE (Notice I capitalized that!), and if you're interested in reminiscing through some of the brilliantly acted deeds of Esther, check out the video montage below. SPOILERS ARE EXCESSIVE! I normally don't include such things, but this was simply too good to exclude. It was put together by JillLovesChrisRE5 on Youtube, and it's called "The Dark Side of Esther". With guilty pleasure aplenty, enjoy!


  1. I haven't seen this movie yet, but it certainly seems to have caused a sensation! And I completely agree, nothing is creepier than a creepy kid! Not only because they look innocent, but because of the moral dilemma of of what to do with an evil child.

    Great review, Chris! I'll put this one on the "must watch" list!

  2. Hi, Emma! I agree that the "moral dilemma" of what to do with evil kids is indeed another a big issue in horror movies. It just makes them all the more difficult to control, and all the more dangerous and evil in the movies.

    I think you will like this one, Emma! :)