Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Orphan

I guessed the twist ending to The Orphan about half-way through the movie.

I never guess the twist ending to movies. I didn't catch that Bruce Willis was dead in Sixth Sense, I didn't catch that Verbal Kint was Keyser Soze, and I probably wouldn't have guessed the chick in The Crying Game was really a dude. Maybe I'm dumb, maybe these movies involve too much narrative cheating to cover the twist (this is certainly true of The Usual Suspects) or maybe I get too lost in the moment to overthink what happens next. But I got the twist in The Orphan and I was deliriously pleased with myself.

Not that this detracted from the experience. To the contrary, I really liked The Orphan.

I dunno if it's the kind of movie that will survive multiple showings, and I don't know if I would have had as much fun if I didn't see it on the big screen, but I'm a sucker for killer kid flicks and this one was even more deliciously twisted than most. Oh, sure, the squares won't like it, but there is some wonderfully warped stuff in this.

Most of the success in this flick comes from Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the precocious little murderess. Most killer kids in movies just kinda stand around and glare ominously, which Esther does in spades, but she also brings a lot of pathos to the role. We don't get the sense that Esther is purely manipulative and evil, but is instead someone that's been so damaged by whatever happened to her in life that she can't come back around the other side. Even when we learn Esther's big secret Furhman keeps the revelation believable, especially given that the character goes into some disgusting dark places. According to IMDB, Fuhrman is gonna be in the Children of the Corn remake, and I hope she brings the same skill to her flyover-land horror tale.

Now, I gotta say that without Esther and all her weirdness, The Orphan would be just another middle class family anxiety thriller. Most of the action takes place in a house I couldn't afford in a million years and the characters have got that successful white-y angst going on. It's a family of Guitar Hero and therapy and miscarriages and hidden diaries and wine bottles, which is all pretty typical of the genre, but Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard do a helluva job making the domestic drama interesting. I liked the two characters, I bought into their frustration, and I felt for them when their family started falling apart. Granted, Peter Sarsgaard's John Colemna was a little too quick to dismiss his wife's concern, but they still remained a sexy, believable, damaged-but-surviving couple.

There were a lot of cool touches in the movie. Esther's insane artwork, revealed only through the black light of her fish tank, was absolutely awesome. I want someone to do a ghastly black-light mural in my place.

There was also a very sexy scene of the couple making love in the kitchen. Granted, they were pretty foolish to have sex in a big open room with their kids nearby, but I liked the spontaneity and the passionate awkwardness of the scene. It's really nice to see a sex scene in a movie that doesn't look as smooth and rehearsed as partner figure skating, where people bump into each other and struggle out of their clothes and do all the other clumsy stuff real couples do.

The movie opens with a really gruesome scene of the mother's nightmarish ordeal during her miscarriage. I've heard a lot of people express discomfort at the image of a pregnant mother taken to such a nasty extreme, but I thought the scene was well filmed and skin-crawlingly creepy, even though it doesn't fit with the rest of the film.

Digging into the subtext of the film, there's something that should be noted about Esther: She's from Eastern Europe. The horror genre always had a long and profitable relationship with the Slavic peoples, going all the way back to a certain TransCarpathian Count. Lately, Eastern Europe seems to be the go-to place when you need amoral and vicious characters. Hostel, Severance, and The Orphan all feature characters twisted by decadence or amorality into doing the most awful things to their fellow man, all fueled by the fall of Communism. This is, of course, horribly prejudiced and made me terribly nervous when I backpacked through Bulgaria and Romania. Any Eastern Europeans out there wanna weigh in on this?

Okay, while we're on this, I want to declare a moratorium on appearing-in-a-mirror-behind-a-character jump scare. You know the one. A character opens a medicine chest/ closet/whatever, with an empty space clearly framed behind them in the shot, they close the door, and someone is now standing in that spot while the music spikes. About half the time they aren't even a threat, which invariably prompts the surprised character to say "You scared me." That shit officially needs to be removed from the horror bag of tricks for a period of no less than three-to-five years.

Anyway, go check it out while it's still in theaters. Bring drunk friends and your love of outrageous wickedness. It's a lot less fun in a small screen, though my friends and I are totally gonna make a drinking game of this. Take a shot every time Esther says something creepy.


Penh said...

I definitely think it will hold up to repeat viewings, if only because of Isabelle Fuhrman's performance. She did a great job of looking evil and menacing without looking like a kid who's trying to act evil and menacing.

And yes, the Mirror Reveal needs to be retired. It's gotten to the point that when someone opens that mirrored door, it's a surprise if there isn't someone revealed when they close it again. "OMG LOOK OUT IT'S... oh, never mind."

Creature said...

1) Yeah, she was easily horror's best killer kid, barring the chick from The Bad Seed.

2) F'reals. That shit gets so played out. Looks like it's gonna be in Halloween 2, coming up. Good bye Danielle Harris. I heart you.