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When Children Scare You to Death: Orphan, the Film



This story has been recycled a few times: parents who are longing for another child and also to do good in the world — no, not Angelina and Brad — adopt an older, unwanted orphan from another country — in this case, Russia — and bring her home to the good life in America. Where everything starts to go wrong. Where only one of the parents notices that the orphan is not everything s/he seems. Where the parent who attempts to warn others that something is not quite right with the new family member is dismissed as neurotic or overly stressed or… whatever… so no one believes the warnings.

Though at first glance the story in the 2009 film Orphan might seem a bit trite, the mesmerizing performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther overcomes any of the film’s predictable weaknesses. Not unreasonably, however, some adoptive parents and adoption agencies objected to yet another film displaying orphans, especially older ones or children from eastern European countries, as dangerous or seriously flawed. But Orphan puts a totally surprising spin on this orphan-who-goes-bad tale so that it becomes an unexpectedly shocking horror film.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, in Orphan © Warner Brothers

Why do parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard), who already have two children, want yet another child after Kate has a miscarriage? The movie doesn’t make the couple’s longing for more children clear, though it does paint Kate and John with some typical clichés: Kate is a recovering alcoholic who is inexplicably devastated by the miscarriage, John is über-career-oriented and doesn’t seem to notice how unhappy Kate is, so the miscarriage has strained their marriage and they think another child will somehow heal it.

Vera Farmiga as Kate, and Peter Sarsgaard as John, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Their two children already seem like quite a handful for parents to handle:

Jimmy Bennett as Daniel, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) tends to do some unpleasant things with homemade weapons,

Aryanna Engineer as Max, Orphan © Warner Brothers

and Max (Aryana Engineer) cannot speak so must communicate with sign language.

CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Rather than wait till Kate is healed, physically and emotionally, from the miscarriage, Kate and John want another child right now. To fix their disintegrating marriage and expand their too-small family, Kate and John visit a local orphanage. There, under the watchful eye of Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), who warns that Esther is “very mature for her age,” Kate and John become enamored of Esther (Isabelle Furhman), who seems just too-too-good to be true.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Because, of course, Esther is too good to be true.

As soon as Kate and John get their new daughter home, there are some problems. Though Max immediately embraces her new sister, Daniel is perturbed by Esther. Whether his is already feeling neglected or he fears two sisters will be too much for any boy in any one household to handle is not clear, but Daniel is less than welcoming.

In any event, Esther immediately shows some signs of being… well, more than “very mature.” She shows signs of being… strange. Like wanting to wear clothes to school that are entirely inappropriate for her age and way inappropriate for grammar school, or wanting to wear makeup that would make the average street-walking prostitute look au naturel. Esther gets really very perturbed when things don’t go her way, relly upset when other children don’t immediately accept her, or really angry and violent when… well, I’m sure you already know all this part of the story.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

By the time things start to go really wrong with Esther and Mother Kate gets concerned, no one else wants to listen to her. After all, she’s a recovering alcoholic and a grieving mother and…
And that’s about where the clichés in the film end.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther, Orphan © Warner Brothers

Because once things start to really go wrong, once Esther begins to get really scary, Orphan becomes an unexpected horror film with a unique twist. No matter what you imagine is the reason behind Esther’s unpleasant and increasingly atrocious behavior, I doubt you will figure out the real reason this orphan is very angry and wicked. And I doubt you will figure out what she really wants from her adopted family.

Though the reviews are mixed, Orphan was a prize-winner in several Independent Film Festivals, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the orphan Esther was virtually universally acclaimed. Some critics compared Fuhrman’s performance as Esther to that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist and Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed, both of which are horror classics.

On Cinemax this month, Orphan is also available for rent ($2.99-3.99) on Amazon (free with a 7-day Cinemax trial), YouTube, Vudu, GooglePlay, and iTunes.

Related Posts


7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

The First Award-Winning Horror Film:
The Exorcist

The World Breaks Everyone:
Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good

Scary Because It’s Possible:
The Bad Seed, the Film

The Demons Within:
The Innocents, the Film

The Plague that Cast the World Into Darkness:
Open Grave, the Film

Not For Children: The Horror Film The Orphanage

The Tragedy Doomed to Repeat Itself:
The Devil’s Backbone: The Film

To Make Cynics of Us All:
Devil, The Horror Film


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Some Scary Films for a Really Scary Halloween


No Spoilers


October is #ScaryMovieMonth and Halloween is one of the best nights to gather and watch scary movies with friends. Whether you like classic horror films or spine-tingling suspense films, here are some of the best films for Halloween. From horror films that have become classics and suspense films that are scary in horrific ways without being horror, to Noir films that are so bad they’re scary bad, you’re sure to find something to enjoy on Halloween.

Horror Classics


If you want horror films that have become classics in the genre, my 7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World will delight you. From Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining to Gary Oldman’s in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from Nicole Kidman’s frightened widow-with-children in The Others  to the super-scary children of Let Me In and The Orphan, these top films are sure to have someone hiding under the covers. Shriek away, my Lovelies.


7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World

Scary Suspense Films


Prefer suspense films for your scary Halloween fare? There are seven top-notch suspense films that are thought-provoking and spine-tingling. They may not have ghosts, but then again, they may, as in Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed The Orphanage and The Devil’s Backbone. Want something meatier for Halloween? Try Open Grave. Don’t want anything but psychological thrills? Check out The Bad Seed or The Innocents or Identity. Shivers and shudders galore, my Lovelies.


7 Suspense Films for Halloween

Comedy Noir


Perhaps you’re having a party this Halloween and need some films to entertain your guests without distracting them from socializing. These 5 Noir films are just what you need playing in the background. They’re Noir, but they’re bad Noir, as in really bad Noir, as in so bad in every way imaginable that, despite their attempts at menace and horror, the films become funny. From DeForest Kelly’s film debut as the hypnotized victim who thinks he committed a murder in Fear in the Night to Anne Baxter’s scenery-chomping role as an Insane-Asylum-Inmate-Saved-By-Her-Doctor-And-Terrified-Of-Birds in Guest in the House, from the multiple marriages in The Bigamist to the identity-stealing-husband in The Man with My Face, you’ll laugh till you cry with these five unintentionally comedic Noirs.


A Comedy of Noir: 5 Must-See Films

Happy Halloween, my Lovelies.


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