Review Date: November 7, 2009
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/27/2009
Region A, HDTV
Codec: VC1, 1080p
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Itís kind of perverse the draw we have to killer kid movies. What is it about us that gets off in seeing prim children doing terrible things? Is it because we bide in the belief that all children are inherently good? Is it some sort of wish fulfillment for the power we ourselves lacked as weak kids? Is it a way to challenge order and normalcy? Hate for procreation? For parents? I donít know, but no matter the motivation, I always get some sort of primal satisfaction with these kinds of movies. Orphan
, released earlier this year to theaters, purported to be different. It offered a twist. Just what was
wrong with Esther? To add to that now on home video, is there anything wrong with this Blu-ray? Read on, children.
Kate (Vera Farmiga
, whoís already gone down this path with Joshua
) is in labor, yet surprisingly calm, as her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard
, The Skeleton Key
) pushes her down the hospital hall. Itís her third child and she couldnít be happier. Then, uncontrollably, blood starts to poor out from her vagina. They wheel her quickly to the delivery room, but itís too late. Sheís lost the baby. Yet, the baby keeps kicking inside her. Before this turns into Grace, though, Kate wakes up. It was a horrible nightmare, but still a personification of the tragedy that befell her family months before. Kate has been recovering after the post-partum left her thirsting for booze to wash the pain away. It reached the spilling point when Kateís deaf daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer
) almost drowned on the shallow ice in front of her house while Kate was passed out drunk. Kateís turned over a new leaf, though, and destined to transfer the love she and her husband felt for their unborn child, she decides to adopt.
Upon going to the orphanage, Kate and John immediately connect with Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman
), a girl who is self-described ďdifferentĒ than the crowd. She dresses old fashioned and talks with refined diction and astute observations. But she doesnít fit in, and John and Kate think they can change that. They bring her home (John and Kate Plus 1?), but almost instantly things start to go awry. While daddy is at the park with his girls, Esther decides for revenge on a cunty classroom rival. Esther pushes the 10-year-old off the slide and into the hospital. Max witnesses the act of cruelty, but she sort of looks up to Esther. Kateís other child, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett
, who has worked way too much these last four years), is not nearly as embracing, and immediately starts to butt heads with prim and proper Esther. Donít worry, though Ė heíll get his.
Proving that sex can set any horror film into motion, things really hit the fan when Esther witnesses John and Kate doing it doggystyle impromptu in the kitchen. Accidents become deaths and coincidences become suspicions. Mommy grows increasingly skeptical of her new brood, while Esther latches on closer than ever to her accepting new father. Through Estherís calculated manipulation the family starts to degrade and turn on itself. Despite her desperation, it takes mom until the final act to discover that Esther isnít quite the gifted Russian exchange student she seems to be. Sheís done this act before, and she wonít stop until she gets what she wants. This girl doesnít just want to have fun, thoughÖ
The cold war ended in 1991 but it comes roaring back with a vengeance with this xenophobic Hollywood document. Despite being shot in various provinces throughout Canada (and with Canadian money, no less) and directed by a Spaniard, Orphan
seems incredibly closed-minded. Fuhrmanís Russian-cum-Transylvanian accent borders on parody as the film reinforces one scene after another that if you want a good kid youíve got to go All American. Like every Russian stereotype this side of Rocky IV
, Esther is studied and intelligent, but incredibly cold. She lacks that spontaneity that makes us
human. Were it black and white Orphan
could almost pass for a Village of the Damned
spin-off given its age old politics. How is she able to upset the Norman Rockwell family? Forged paperwork and poor Russian bookkeeping, naturally. She doesnít control her siblings via good natured willpower, nope, she takes a page from good olí Joseph S. by using fear tactics and violence to get whatever she wants. I was hoping the filmmakers would introduce a family pet that she could co-opt as her own personal KGB, but no dice.
Distracting and dated Russia-phobia aside, Orphan
plays out pretty much exactly as youíd expect from a film in the killer kid genre. The lass says swears she shouldnít, welds weapons she shouldnít and possesses a nihilism that not even fit for Nietzsche. To be fair, though, Macaully Culkin in The Good Son
makes Esther and Nietzsche seem like Abbott and Costello. Come to think of it, the treehouse in Orphan
ends up possessing a similar story function to the superior The Good Son
. However derivative, the formula still works, and thereís something still taboo about seeing a tyke that society has taught us is inherently good natured and harmless wreak so much havoc. Now, the painted corner twist removes a lot of the integral allure of the killer kid genre, but by the end of the film the filmmakers really had no other option after everything that had happened to not pull the card they did.
Running a robust 123 minutes, the big twist really doesnít seem that big at all, considering the rest of the plot was already well in motion to wrapping up before the tug of the rug. You know Esther is going to get hers, so who cares about all the other semantics? Making it tough to nitpick all the many flaws, the film is beautifully shot, filled with blood and menace and buoyed by fine performances. As husband and wife, Sarsgaard and Fermiga are really quite wonderful, giving their relationship the realistic backbone to ground the viewers during all of Estherís unrealistic shenanigans. The couple have some really honest moments together and really make the strained marriage arc in the second act seem a lot more than just a plot device. You really feel for this couple and the two are as good as any actors in a horror film in some time.
Now, most of the praise has been lobbied on tiny Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, and, well, sheís alright. She acquits herself well and doesnít drift out of the vampiric accent too much. The best part of her performance is actually the makeup in the final act that really brings out a different side to the character that we hadnít seen before. Itís a subtle touch, but itís amazing what the makeup alone can do to transform a performance. That said, Fuhrman canít really live up to her makeup for the finale, instead defaulting to stock screaming and raving throughout the final act. Given the twist, again, youíd think they filmmakers would have had the actress explore the scenario with at least some macabre dialogue or something. Like the up-to-the-final-act interesting Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction
though, Esther becomes little more than a slasher cipher once the plot starts to wrap up.
All complaints aside, Orphan
is a competent and watchable slice of familiarity, dolled up so nicely with Hollywood talent that you almost overlook the obvious wrinkles in its story and Cold War worldview. This definitely runs circles around the two previous Dark Castle films based entirely on new material (the incoherent Gothika
and the morose The Reaping
), but were it not dropped on my doorstep free of charge, Iíd have probably left this orphan at the nursery home. Watch it, enjoy it, forget about it.
There isnít much makeup here. Orphan
is presented matter-of-factly in 1080p on Blu-ray. There isnít really anything extremely standout about the 1.85:1 picture. Edges look sharp, but thereís enough intentional grain thrown about that the window effect just doesnít really happen any time during the film. Itís stylishly shot but never looks like reality, with the colors mostly stuck in unappealing browns, whites and reds Ė the Cold War colors! Detail isnít quite as fine as youíd expect from a high profile release, and all in all itís serviceable by modern standards and little more.
gets a pretty restrained Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track for its birth on Blu-ray. The use of stereo or even surround is surprisingly minimal. Even scenes youíd think it would be obvious to induce a surround effect, like when Kateís car is roaring out of control across the road or when the treehouse fire is burning on all cylinders. While the surround may be sparing, the sub woofer gets a grand workout for all the ominous bass rumbles director cum composer John Ottman infuses in the soundtrack. Dialogue is tack sharp and there is no hiss or noise discernible, even at the high levels I had this cranked. The track wonít wow, but Orphan
still sounds as crisp as weíd expect a new, big budget Hollywood release to sound.
was a sleeper hit for Dark Castle earlier this year, with its modest $12 million opening converted via word of mouth to a very respectable $42 million (tied with Thirteen Ghosts
as the most successful Dark Castle venture to date). I wouldnít guess it, though from the extras that befit the home video release. For DVD buyers itís practically barren Ė a few deleted scenes and an alternate ending. It runs only a few minutes, and features some goofing off at the supper table, Esther telling mommy about dadís flirting, Esther framing a homeless guy for the nunís death, dad putting on his foreshadowing cap by checking the safe for his gun and the alternate ending with a different fate for Esther, and her makeup. While itís not much to go on, at least all the scenes are unique and not just variations on a scene, and some of them, like the homeless setup, probably would have helped plausibility in the film, too. If youíre thinking DVD then thatís it. Scroll away. Finito.
Blu-ray buyers, however, donít get much more. All you get is a 14:55 piece titled ďMamaís Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil ChildrenĒ. Itís sort of a mesh of EPK, with interviews with Farmiga, Sarsgaard, little Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Producer Joe Silver and Director Jaume Collet-Serra. Those parts arenít particularly interesting, but what is nice are the parts dedicated to other killer kid movies, with Dread Central members commenting on favorites like The Brood, The Bad Seed, The Omen, The Exorcist and others. There are a couple psychiatrists and other doctorly types aboard to talk about the ending, but thatís all just silly stuff anyway. Youíll wish there was more, especially since all the killer kid movies mentioned are supernatural and this one isnít. Seriously, why wonít anyone talk about The Good Son? If I let this Blu-ray go it probably could fly, because there is so little on here to weigh it down.
A Digital Copy is also included on a second disc, and you know, the process is surprisingly fast Ė I watched this for the first time via iPhone and it took about 2 minutes to get it onto my computer and another 3 or so to transfer it to the Pod. Iím still on the fence as to whether or not including a second disc that most people probably will never use is a giant environmental waste, but whatever, when you do need it, itís handy. There are also apparently some BD Live featuers, but in my experience it's such a clunky pain in the ass it's not worth the trouble.
is laughably old fashioned with its Cold War conceptions of the Other, with Isabelle Fuhrman channeling both Bela Lugosi and Angelina Jolie in Alexander
with vampiric coy and calamity. That aside, the film offers the standard tropes of the sub-genre with a darker edge that sets it apart. Itís constructed so well that by the time the twist actually comes it feels more like an afterthought than the hinge that moves the story. Whether you like the final reveal or not, you should already come out satisfied if you like seeing small people make big trouble. Big things donít really come in the small package of Blu-ray, though, as this is a pretty sparse release that skirts by with being all perfectly acceptable. Itís worth a visit, for sure, but save adoption for those who must compulsively add to the home video family.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B*
Sound - B
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 2 hours 3 minutes
- Rated R
- 2 Discs (1 Blu-ray, 1 Digital Copy)
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Deleted scenes and alternate ending
- "Mama's Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Children" featurette
- Digital Copy
- BD Live