Sunday, August 2, 2009

REVIEW: Orphan...

Horror is kind of my thing. I've seen an obnoxious amount of horror films, bad, solid, good, and classic alike. I'm also a bit of a picky viewer myself, so when the first few pieces of promotional material for Orphan came out, I was less than excited. Hell, I never even posted a poster regarding the film.

That said, when it came to picking a film to watch during the week, this one caught me and my significant others eyes (she also happens to be quite the avid film goer, especially horror films). With such cliche trailers, posters, and marketing, could a solid cast save this project?

For the most part, yes.

The premise to Orphan is simple enough: the film centers on a couple who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a young girl who is hiding a dark secret behind her sweet facade. It does go a bit deeper than that, particularly with the twist (more on that in a bit), but really, that's what and all you need to know about this fun, if cliche, horror/thriller from Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions.

The film starts with a horrific nightmare where our lead, Kate, played wonderfully earnest by the always stellar Vera Farmiga, is rehashing a stylized replay of the most traumatic moment in her life; the moment her third child was stillborn. This horrible experience is not only taking strains on her and John's (Peter Sarsgaard) relationship, but it's also not aided by the past skeletons in Kate's closet, particularly a drinking problem.

The biggest surprise with this film is not particularly how it's shot, or what happens in it, but it's what happens before it. This film, more than anything, has a few giant brass balls. These two lovers and their subsequent pair of kiddies have more baggage than Madonna going a lifetime journey to who knows where. Sure, some of the drama could be seen as just to much to seem real, but honestly, it made these people just that, people, particularly Kate. All of this would be undone by horrible performances, so honestly, these performances are more than stellar, with the star being Farmiga. Sarsgaard is superb, for roughly two-thirds of the film, until his character simply becomes what the film inevitably becomes, cliche. The two really hold down the film, a film that would easily be blasted into the realm of B-cinema (which it lands in with the final act), if it weren't for them.

However, if you look, I talk about the nuclear family, and not the new child adopted to fill the family's need for a third. The role of Esther is one that can be found throughout the annals of cinema. The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, just to name a few. However, there is one thing that separates these three classics from Orphan (besides overall quality); the strength of the child in question and what goes on around it. The idea of a creepy and bloodthirsty child is at both inherently creepy, and also inherently comical. Now take that interesting if funny idea, make the kid Eastern European (and SPOILER, not a kid), and you have one of the more iconically schlocky antagonists this year. The performance is solid, but it's like saying she is also the talles 33 year old dwarf in the world. Just not a memorable character. Fine performance, just not given all the much to work with, at least script wise.

Story wise however, she has more than enough to deal with. The film is at times both intense, and comical, but on some sort of B-movie level, it works to perfection. Esther does insanely awful things to this already troubled family. Whether it be simply pushing a kid off a slide (who here HASN'T done that?), or pointing a gun at a three year old deaf child asking if she would like to play a game, implying a round of Russian Roulette. Not much subtlety here, as it has about as much as a sledgehammer to the balls would, but at the same time, it's beyond enthralling. Sure, it's plodding, predictable, and cliche, but it's equally interesting, engrossing, and just plain fun, in a similar way that another hit from this year, Drag Me To Hell, was. A comparison between the two films not am I making, as DMtH is easily this years best horror film, but Orphan would play an interesting opening film for a drive in double feature of horror cinema alongside DMtH.

Overall, Orphan, which comes to us from Jaume Collet-Serra, who also made us watch Paris Hilton die in House of Wax, is a well made, stellar looking piece of B-horror cinema. Schlocky in pace and lead antagonist performance, the film is saved by an interesting premise, unthinkable and unthinkably hilarious twist, superb lead performances, and one final moment that will leave you both laughing and picking up your jaw. It's a solid film with some stark flaws, but in a summer of bloated actioners, give this smaller horror fare a pretty penny.

ORPHAN - 7.5/10

Go see something good!

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