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Orphan (2009)
Film:  Poor    
DVD Transfer:  Very Good  
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October 27, 2009



Genre: Horror / Thriller  
A family's newly adopted daughter begins to show some peculiar homicidal behaviour.  



Directed by:

Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenplay by: David Johnson, Alex Mace
Music by: John Ottman
Produced by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Joel Silver

Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, and Aryana Engineer.

Film Length: 123 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English Closed Captioned, French, Spanish
Special Features :  

4 Deleted Scenes + Alternate Ending (4:03)

Comments :

It might be fair to assume that, without the name actors and flashy budgets, most of the Dark Castle films would end up as throwaway direct-to-video fodder, because no matter how much the company tries, they keep failing to deliver a good film.

In spite of the critical drubbing Orphan received during its theatrical run, it was made with more good intentions than its DC predecessors, such as The Reaping (2007), Ghost Ship (2002), Thir13en Ghosts (2001), and House on Haunted Hill (1999); these are films that, in various configurations, failed because of incoherent storytelling, choppy direction, and a general laziness that allowed undercooked scripts to be greenlit before major flaws were solved. The assumption was often that if the effects were cool and the directorial style was loud and flashy, the movie ought to succeed as an audio-video rollercoaster ride.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who also helmed DC’s House of Wax) went for cool visual elegance instead of flash, and his approach – surprisingly measured – gives scenes a classical style. The first third of Orphan is actually quite sound: the focus is on the major traumas the family has managed to survive, and Vera Farmiga completely sells her character, Kate Coleman; she’s engrossing to watch as a recovering alcoholic desperately wanting another child after her last pregnancy yielded a stillborn baby.

Her scenes with deaf daughter Max are quite compelling, and Collet-Serra at one point drops the sound in a bedtime scene, and emphasizes performances, lighting, and John Ottman’s strong score to highlight the special bond the two have. That intimate moment also provides a stark contrast to brief scenes where it’s obvious Kate has a strained relationship with son Daniel, who is jealous of her attention towards Max, and later the family’s newest member, Esther.

In spite of her difficulties with Daniel, Kate still wants to take all that ‘unused love’ from dead baby Jessica, and apply it towards an adopted child, so the couple drop by an orphanage and settle on a precocious 9 year old named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Esther appears to be a talented artist, but slowly her irrational personality emerges, with a gradual fixation on father John.

Logically, had the filmmakers strengthened that obsession with more specific hints over the course of the film, the twist finale would’ve made sense. By leaving Esther’s hunger for dad until the end reel, and Kate discovering Esther’s true identity through a quick throwaway scene by phone, the shocking twist is plain ridiculous.

Even worse is that after Esther makes a move for daddy, there’s still another 20 minutes to go before the end credits, and therein lies the film’s major problem: it’s overlong, and ponderous. Newcomer scribes David Johnson and Alex Mace setup a compelling family unit, but their breakdown is handled too slowly. Director Collet-Serra’s classical approach also makes later scenes drag, and the shocks are nowhere as clever or devious as the filmmakers think.

Orphan could’ve been a tight little shocker, but unlike prior DC productions, its flaws may not be due to a huge mish-mash of producers and co-producers (a total of TEN, including executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio) adding their own input, nor DC going for the usual style over substance. The likely culprit are a series of bad creative decisions that turned Orphan into an overlong cheat, which is certainly unusual within the DC canon, but hardly noteworthy.

Warner Bros.’ DVD includes the theatrical cut as well as a reel of deleted scenes (one alludes to John’s prior infidelities with another woman), and an alternate ending that has Esther face a mass of police after Kate has fled the house with Max.

Note to Dark Castle: TRY HARDER.

Those wanting a truly superior Evil Child thriller with unsettling emotional vulnerabilities are better rewarded with Joshua (2007).


© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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