Posted: 07/26/2009

 

Orphan (2009)

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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Orphan is a movie that brings back memories of the good old days when the Bad Seed and Damien were bad, but the less than angelic lead in this movie, Esther, is a crazy-like-a-fox demonic, conniving, manipulating “run-for-cover-and-hide-the-knives” deranged and possessed 9-year-old girl.

Esther is adopted into the Coleman family that has seen its share of heartache with the mother, Kate, played by Vera Farmiga, losing a child, recovering from an alcohol addiction, and raising a special needs younger girl named Max who is deaf. The preteen boy in the family, Daniel, is your typical (well in some families) hyper active, insolent young man, but although he has his own toys and takes up much of his time with his buddies, he still doesn’t take too kindly to the family’s new addition. The father, John, played by Peter Sarsgaard, tends to have blinders on his eyes and just can’t seem to grasp what the mother begins to envision during Esther’s first couple of weeks in the house—Esther comes with baggage that seems to embrace the adage that when trouble comes, Esther isn’t too far behind.

Even Daniel, who can hold his own, even up against his mom and dad, is harassed and afraid of Esther, once she decides to come for him. This movie definitely isn’t one for the kids, as it turns very dark. I even feel for the kids in the movie, because they are forced to deal with such violence, with all the arsenal that Esther uses to carry out her plots against the family—knives, guns and hammers, as well as a scene where Esther seems to be sleeping too close to John in bed (but all is revealed in the end).

CCH Pounder stars as Sister Abigail, the nun at the orphanage who introduces the Coleman’s to Esther. The parents fall in love with the young, nicely dressed and comported young girl. Esther, played by Isabelle Fuhrman, has a great eye for drawing and also knows how to play a mean piano, even though she lies at the onset and says she doesn’t know how to play.
When word finally spreads that Esther’s past is hard to determine, she decides to eliminate CCH Pounder, as she leaves the family home. But Max is with her, and she terrorizes and threatens that if Max tells anyone, she will also go to jail for the murder.
Next, Esther strategically hides the evidence in Daniel’s tree house, which later turns into an inferno at Esther’s hands, as she watches Daniel try to escape the flames.

Esther uses her influence on the father, since he sides with Esther against his wife, when the wife suggests that Esther is behind an accident at her school. She also uses her influence on Daniel, when threatening him with an exacto blade. Esther seems to cast a spell on all those around her but Kate, but even Kate can’t help Max when Esther puts the car in reverse with Max in the back seat.
As Daniel is recovering in the hospital from the eventual fall that he suffers while hanging onto the planks on the tree house, Esther tries to snuff his life out once again in his hospital room.
At turn after turn Esther wreaks havoc on the house, as she tries to cover up her past before her secret is out.

Finally, things comes together, and Kate has enough evidence to convince the family that Esther has to go back to wherever she was before coming to their house.
But Esther has one last trick up her sleeve, and the ending of the movie provides such an unexpected surprise—one which I would never have imagined.
As I said, Orphan is good, full of suspense, gore and blood, and Esther delivers many evil moments, but it’s not one that I would take younger children to see.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.



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