Thursday, 24 April 2014

Jaume Collet-Serra's 'Orphan' (2009)

It's been a fair old while since Blogtastic has entertained a film review. Doubtless after reading this you will think the next one can't come late enough. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Orphan, a film that explores what it would be like to be a family (made up of mum and dad, Kate and John, and a boy and a girl who i'm not even going to talk about) who adopt a sweet little girl (Esther) that turns out to be anything but.

It was a strange mix of (psychological) thriller and cringeworthily cliche horror. It's main skill seemed to reside in trying to 'lampoon' the 'traditional' shock moments in horror films (such as closing the fridge door/bathroom mirror etc), subverting some of the expectations. Maybe i'm being too cynical, but this didn't add anything to the film. It felt like a pastiche that tripped over its own laces.

Then there was the deadpan delivery of so much ridiculousness - a supposed nine-year old girl acting cuter than Joey Essex one minute, then speaking like a grizzled, middle-aged gangster the next. I know this is usually the point of 'this genre' (or these genres), to be far-fetched, but the twisty nature was too much really. The mention of a 'hormone imbalance' causing a thirty-three year old (with multiple scars around neck and wrists) to conceal herself as a young girl (with the help of ribbons and make-up) was plain silly. As for the motive - yeah she likes older men in relationships, fair enough, that happens to real people. But why pretend to be a pre-pubescent girl bent on murdering wives and families (burning down their house for a kind of twisted dessert) just to get a bit of nookie? And because it's such a superficial film, they missed out on the psychological depth of character that may have made us understand, perhaps even sympathise with, the eponymous antagonist. The fact that Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) was in a mental asylum was supposed to make all this seem totally credible, but it just didn't. Add to this some extremely poor CGI (in some instances where it frankly wasn't needed in the slightest, such as Esther running) and made the suspension of disbelief harder than it already was. Which was impossible anyway.

I thought i noticed an allusion to The Shining toward the end, but the finale was so terrible that i must have been mistaken. There's this ridiculous 'showdown' (as there always has to be in these crappy churned out modern rubbish doofers) with a load of false endings to desperately ratchet up the tension that they couldn't write in using subtler methods. There was a bit where Kate (Vera Farmiga), seemingly kills the rampant Esther, only to run out the room and leave her alone before the police arrive. I immediately thought 'when help arrives, the body will have gone' and, of course, i was correct and totally unsurprised. Then there was a load of grapply-stabby action on a frozen lake that cracks, and plenty of 'oh, thank God she's dead OH WAIT NO SURPRISE STAB IN THE LEG!' moments. Really poor, they felt so contrived that i thought i was watching a Spanish soap opera (or something like that...).

The film was so confused between the realism of the social concerns (adoption, infertility, relationship stress) and the wholly unrealistic elements (the 'fantastic' - in terms of remoteness from reality, not positive evaluation - Oedipal horror involving unlikely events that carry on undetected for so long, all to the 'tension music' of strings and waterphones, no doubt borrowed from the last horror film that made a ton of money because its trailer looked half-decent). The result is an unconvincing film where, as you watch, you're not sure what it wants. Therefore you can't be sure if you're enjoying it, which means you're not.

Of course, i could go into the ridiculous minutiae, such as modern films' insistence on product placement. For example, when John (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up to his house in a completely new, freshly polished SUV (the brand of which i won't dignify with a mention) in a world where all minor characters are driving rusted bangers around, it genuinely looks out of place. But i won't go into that. Instead i'll go into what the film does well. Be prepared for this. You ready?

Orphan exploits fear well. The gory dream sequence near the start will certainly try and scare you conceptually (and cheaply). The issue of parenthood and loss of offspring is such a rich emotional hotbed, and it is not dealt with gently here. If you are sensitive, you'll immediately be plunged into a sympathetic and nervous mood. Without that, you probably wouldn't even watch the film, but because it sucker-punched you at the start then maybe you'll invest in it more.

Peace out!


  1. your review made me want to watch it, it looks so bad it can't possibly scare me, right?

    1. Haha i'd be surprised if it did!
      Hey, i hope if you watch it then you at least enjoy it more than i did, then something good came of it all :)


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