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Not the offspring of run-of-the-mill horror

BY RYAN FOSMARK | JULY 27, 2009 7:15 AM

Movie Review: Orphan
**** out of *****

Seeing the previews for Orphan didn’t leave me with much desire to see the actual flick. The movie looked like a low-budget horror film — completely void of suspense and human anguish. Not to mention the blood looked like cherry syrup. Shortly after the movie began, however, I was proven wrong.

The beginning of Orphan didn’t help my misconceptions. A heavily pregnant Kate (Vera Farmiga — best known for her role in The Departed) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) slowly make their way to a hospital’s front desk. Something is odd about how bare and bright everything is except for Kate’s face, which shows a lot of pre-dilation pain. As Kate is being pushed in her wheelchair from the front desk, she huffs and puffs and tells the nurse that this will be her third baby, and the baby’s name is Jessica. Then comes the blood.

Immediately, I thought I was right all along. Kate awakes on a hospital table with clumsy, faceless doctors all around piling large, dangerous-looking metal tools under her gown saying “I’m sorry for your loss.” Kate begins to break down at the thought of a miscarriage when they tell her she might “feel some tugging.” A vacuum is turned on and blood is everywhere as Kate screams and writhes in pain with her husband filming the whole scene saying, “You’re doing great, honey.” Then a baby begins to cry and the doctor congratulates Kate on a new baby girl as the mother is handed a wad of wailing, bloody linens and flesh.

But thankfully, it was all a dream. As Kate awakes from her nightmare, I began to realize the true nature of Orphan. The flick seems to be a sort of meta-horror, utilizing and almost mocking the oh-so-familiar tools of traditional horror movies. The blood and guts in the beginning are just about the extent of the gore in this film — except for a couple necessary corpses and a few blood spatters here and there. The messy introduction sets the mood for Orphan in a way that left me expecting blood and virtually unshielded against the suspenseful and shocking moments to come.

The movie makes good use of viewer psych-outs. The orchestrated soundtrack completely had its way with me — especially combined with the increasingly creepy plot. John and Kate adopt an extraordinarily bright and mature 9-year-old girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who leaves more and more hints that she is not the innocent little painter that she appears to be. I was continually expecting some moment of disturbing surprise, and the music led me on, building in volume and dissonance to the breaking point until it was so tense that I was literally holding my breath only to be tricked when finally nothing was around the corner or on the other side of the mirror. Then again, sometimes Orphan delivered the psychological shock full-force.

The tale winds around into detective/mystery territories as Kate becomes convinced that Esther is hiding something awful —which she is. Esther becomes increasingly powerful over her little deaf sister, Max (Aryana Engineer), demanding her help in beating a nun to death with a hammer or spying on Kate. Max is so obviously torn between having a sister to play with and telling her mother about what Esther had done that her development is the most intriguing of all the characters.

Except for the somewhat predictable ending, which leaves the story far too wrapped up to allow any lingering eerie feeling, the plot was intricate and effective, delivering the final twist with a heavy blow. Orphan’s use of horror-movie tactics was in an original, convincing way that left me eating my initial words.


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