June 10, 2011

Orphan (2009)

"A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be."

As "Orphan" is a horror movie which relies on a pretty far-fetched secret as its main selling point, it's almost impossible to review without giving away spoilers which is why I haven't even tried to write about it until now.

A few weeks ago one of the UK TV channels showed "Orphan", and it became one of the trending subjects on Twitter so quickly that people wondered what was going on with the now two-year old film. Everybody in Britain seemed to be watching "Orphan" in the same sinister way that the human race watched the shooting stars in "Day of the Triffids" or "Night of the Comet" but obviously without the apocalyptic repercussions.

Other than a programme being of some historical importance such as a Royal wedding or state funeral (neither of which interest me), I don't remember any other occasion when so many people were all glued to their TV sets at the same time. I think the last time it almost happened over anything in the horror genre was when "Salem's Lot" was first shown though some might argue that the infamous "Eastenders" Christmas episodes are often just as horrific and have the same number of viewers.

Anyway, I started to wonder why "Orphan" succeeded where so many other horror movies which had a debut on British television failed. I have no answer other than it simply being a damn good film although I can imagine that it was advertised with a ton of teaser trailers in the week before it aired.

Suffice it to say, if you are one of the very few people who hasn't seen "Orphan" then stop reading now because I am going to spoil it for you.

The big "secret" is that Esther, played by 11-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman, is not really a little girl at all but an insane 30-something Russian prostitute with dwarfism. Yes, I told you at the beginning that it was far-fetched.

The weird thing is that Isabelle Fuhrman is so good in the role that you don't doubt for a moment that she is a lot older than her physical appearance and therein lies a very disturbing problem when it comes to any adult male reactions to her character.

If this was just a "evil kid" movie such as "The Bad Seed" (1956) or "The Good Son" (1993), it would certainly not be such a controversial subject to talk about in everyday conversation. Although any mention of giving those brats a good hiding might raise a few eyebrows among ridiculously liberal parents, if anyone ever admitted to fancying Patty McCormack or Macaulay Culkin in their movies then not only would it be instantly wrong on so many levels but they'd probably be laughed at quite severely too. You see where I'm going with this? "Orphan" sets up not only a paedophile's dream scenario but it can make any normal heterosexual male severely question his reactions too.

As a fully developed and reasonably normal adult man, I can, without a shadow of a doubt, tell you that I absolutely detest children. The fact that I went to school with a load of them put me off for life (and, yes, I was a child myself then too). I don't have any clue what it would be like to be a parent since I have cats as children instead, and I try my hardest to have no interaction with anyone under the legal drinking age including relatives because, quite honestly, I can't stand kids.

But, a 30-year-old Russian prostitute with dwarfism? Yes, that very much appeals to my sicker, darker side and with all the make-up, a little black dress and some obvious padding to create a more adult body, I can honestly say that Esther was gorgeous. Where is the harm in admitting something like that? It was the filmmaker's intention to create this troublesome image and it worked. Do I feel shame that it worked on me? Not really. I don't even care that those cardboard standees of Miley Cyrus all over Wal-Mart have caught my eye a few times too. A pretty girl is a pretty girl no matter what age she is and I am secure enough about my own sexuality that I can admit it. The fact that my disgust about children means that I simply don't have it in me to want to buy a bag of sweeties and hang around playgrounds is another thing that I'm happy to admit publicly. The sweets will always be mine, I'm not sharing, and getting on that roundabout when nobody is around to spin until I puke is something that you probably don't really want to know about anyway.

The most disturbing scene in "Orphan" is not the revelation that the adopted 9-year-old is really a deranged adult murdereress but Esther's attempted seduction of Peter Sarsgaard. Not only is this clearly horrible for all the paedophilic reasons you can imagine but is it just me or does Peter Sarsgaard sound like he's gay throughout the film? I know that he's a thoroughly rampant heterosexual in real life so it threw me a bit that he delivered a lot of his lines with such a stereotypical affectation. This also created even more questions about the scene. Was John Coleman refusing Esther's advances because he thought she was a little girl, because he was married, or because he was gay? If I was in the same position and, bear in mind that I'm talking about the scenario of the film and Esther really being an adult, I don't think that I would have refused her. Hell, I wouldn't refuse Lola from "The Loved Ones" either. Psycho chicks really do it for me.

There's really not much more that I should say about "Orphan" unless I want to dig myself a bigger hole. I think the film is excellent but, because of its "gimmick", you can't ever watch it again once you know Esther's secret unless you intend to pick holes in it for a review.

If I had to give "Orphan" a rating out of 10, it would get full marks. It's not scary as such but it has the potential to really make you question some darker aspects of human nature if you want it to. The camerawork, acting, set design and everything else (that really you should just take for granted in a real movie rather than some terrible handycam piece of crap) is all excellent as you would expect. I highly recommend "Orphan" as something which you should have in your collection if, for no other reason, you want to instigate some very probing questions with anyone you watch it with. It's a lot more subtle than sticking a potential paedo in front of "Hard Candy" (2005) to see if they fancy Ellen Page.

"Orphan" is a quality production which reminds me of the days when you could walk into Blockbuster and pick anything off the shelf without having to worry about it being a no-budget nasty with a sleeve that fools you into thinking otherwise. Choosing films just because the story itself intrigues you rather than having to worry about all the technical inadequacies would make life so much easier and I thank Jaume Collet-Serra (who also directed the "House of Wax" reimagining) for helping to bring old school filmmaking back.

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