July 20, 2015

Gore Orphanage (2015)

"Set in the depression era, Gore Orphanage shows that some things are worse than losing your family."

Sharing the title and same urban legend with an earlier low-budget horror movie from 1980 which I've never seen, "Gore Orphanage" adds to one of Ohio's most famous (albeit extremely fanciful) ghost stories by successfully slipping the motivation of real life English murderer Mary Bell into the mix.

Obviously, being British myself, I wouldn't have ever known about the Gore Orphanage urban legend, but I did know about Mary Bell who was all over the news in the early 1980s and caused another kerfuffle during the Tony Blair era when the government failed to prevent her (as a convicted murderer) from profitting financially through sales of her published story.

Of course, if you don't know or care about any of those things, it doesn't really matter. "Gore Orphanage" is a work of fiction whether you choose to read Emily Lapisardi's "Gore Orphanage: The Novel" right now or wait a few months longer to watch this movie which Emily Lapisardi has directed and co-written (with producer/actor Cody Knotts) when it's officially released in October. I've been one of the lucky few reviewers who was selected to see the screener, and I mostly enjoyed it.

"Gore Orphanage" stars Maria Olsen as a sadistic proprietor of a privately owned orphanage in a role reminiscent of the latest incarnation of prison governor Joan "The Freak" Ferguson from the Australian "Wentworth" TV series. Mrs. Pryor (Maria Olsen) is a nasty piece of work with mental health issues which may excuse but not condone any legal justification for her actions. You'll hate her, but you're supposed to. As usual, Maria looks attractive in some scenes and appropriately horrible in others, but either way, she can certainly act.

As a foil to Maria Olsen's character, Keri Maletto plays the younger and nicer Miss Lillian who also shows similarities to an early Joan Bennett from "Wentworth". I'm not saying that there are any borrowings as such here, just stereotypical and easily recognisable genre characters. I may have noticed them in "Wentworth" (the rebooted "Prisoner: Cell Block H") most recently, but such characters have been part of every prison and orphanage drama.

I don't know why Miss Lillian never takes her hat off when she's indoors.

Sharing the burden of looking after the orphanage is Bill Townsend playing Ernst the German janitor/handyman. I won't spoil it for you, but things may or may not be as they first appear with Ernst. There's certainly some good work there with the script and characterisation. More screen time for Ernst would have been nice, but maybe a little more depth would have wrecked his subplot too.

Since this story is set in an orphanage, the rest of the cast is mostly comprised of child actors including Emma Smith, Nora Hoyle, and Brandon Mangin Jr. I believe that this is their first movie, so I'm not going to judge any of them too harshly. Some of their performances are better than others (and some made me cringe), but generally, they do an acceptable job. None of them are up to the same standard as kids in movies such as "The Bad Seed" (1956) or "Stephen King's It" (1990), but they're as good as any Children's Film Foundation actors from back in the day.

If I had to pick one child actor out of all of them who looks like she will have a big future ahead of her, it would be little Nora Hoyle who plays Esther. She has some great expressions, is aware of the other actors, and makes her scenes convincing. I simply wasn't very impressed by Emma Smith in the lead role as Nellie, but she does have her moments.

To be brutally honest, the camerawork and the direction doesn't work in the favour of many of the children. Wrong angles, some bad framing, and keeping them on their marks tends to show through. In particular, faults are most apparent when the children are speaking to each other and eye contact isn't made at the right angle, and there are unnatural movements when these young actors have to walk or run to a certain point.

Again, I also have to make some allowances because this is Emily Lapisardi's debut feature and she still needs to learn her craft. Giving credit where it's due, she's done a lot better than I could ever do, but that's a redundant point since I'm not a filmmaker and have no desire to ever be one. I'm just an often overly critical viewer.

Mealtimes involve a lot of playing with food rather than eating it.

The cinematography by Nicholas Carrington is inconsistently but mostly competent. I prefer the scenes where he clearly used a tripod rather than the shaky handycam, but that's because I'm old-fashioned that way. The best of these is when Mrs. Pryor reads a passage from the Bible to the kids before they eat. Only in one scene near the end does the handycam accidentally make you think that you're watching a "killer's point-of-view", and this could possibly be stabilised more in post-production to remove that slight problem.

Editing is a laborious process for anyone, so I fully appreciate the effort which has gone into "Gore Orphanage", but even as a slow-burn murder/mystery/horror, it would benefit from being a bit tighter. The pacing is okay as it is, but... yeah, if I knew how to do it, I would swap a few scenes around and excise a couple of others. The soundtrack is also very basic and occasionally echoey as well. All these things are standard problems with low-budget productions, so you can take what I'm saying with the usual pinch or sackful of salt.

The 1930s depression era setting works well, and care has been taken with the various props, costumes, and location. "Gore Orphanage" is not quite as good in that respect as the movies which have inspired it, but it's noticeable that someone cared enough about attention to detail within the contraints of the budget.

Similar looking and themed movies such as "Flowers in the Attic" (1987), "The Others" (2001), "The Devil's Backbone" (2001), "House of Voices" (2004), "The Orphanage" (2007), "The Awakening" (2011), and ""The Secret pf Crickley Hall" (2012) do more or less the same thing, but "Gore Orphanage" doesn't have anywhere near the same budget as even the cheapest of those productions.

She still has that hat on!

One final (and very minor) gripe is that Chris "The Irate Gamer" Bores is listed in the credits but doesn't appear until after them. Apparently, he was in a cut scene which involved paranormal investigators. The only bit that remains is a post-credits bonus in which you only see him running away with three other people and have no idea who any of them are. Oh well, I guess that he won't be promoting this movie much on his YouTube channel now.

If you think from my critique so far that I hated a lot of this movie, you'd be wrong. In fact, I enjoyed the storytelling despite "Gore Orphanage" not being the supernatural or even bloody event which I initially thought that it was going to turn into. I truly enjoyed the acting, and I definitely got a kick out of the "twist" element. The wraparound scenes give that away more than I just have.

"Gore Orphanage" may not be brilliantly or slickly realised, and it's predictable for those of us who've seen too many movies, but it's generally okay. A little nod to "The Shining" doesn't become a cliché, and I totally respect and am grateful for the restraint shown there. I'm also grateful that no holds were barred when it came to the more taboo subject matter.

Having said that, I'm not entirely convinced that "Gore Orphanage" should be classed as a horror movie. It may be within the wider scope of the genre and contains a few slasher elements, but it's more of a drama and mystery than a "shit-yer-pants-scary" affair anyway.

For that reason, more than any other, I can only give "Gore Orphanage" a slightly below average rating as it stands at the moment. As much as I'm tempted to hypocritically gush about this movie and drop a marketing-friendly "quote" into my review to get a mention on the DVD sleeve, I just can't do it. "Gore Orphanage" isn't scary, and horror movies should be scary.

For more information about the DVD release, please check out the "Gore Orphanage" Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goreorphanagethemovie.

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