Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by: David Leslie Johnson
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett
Parenthood provides an experience like no other to bring a human into the world and raise them to be functioning adults. Nonetheless, there’s something special that comes with adopting a child who has no parents and you give them the opportunity to live a better life with no blood ties connecting them to you. The danger, however, comes with not knowing what they’ve inherited and the complete randomness of what you might be dealing with on a behavioral level. With all of that in mind, no one could expect what transpires in Orphan where an adoption goes down in the most horrifying way possible.
Following the traumatic loss of their baby, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt a child, which leads them to an orphanage. After bonding with a little girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) they decide to bring her into the family. While starting out jovial, the dynamic begins to get strange as Esther proves to not be exactly what they thought she should be.
Delivering on one of the greatest and most unexpected reveals a horror film has ever done, it surprises me I never had it spoiled for me prior to watching the film. Something so insane that you do not see coming even if paying attention to the story closely. However, this great film proves to be more than just its twist as it builds something quite frightening, especially in the eyes of a mother as she has to contend with the reality of her adoptive daughter being something she did not suspect.
The horror of this feature comes from the level of believability granted to Kate and Esther as conflicting things arise in the story. As Esther continues to show her true colors and causes issues for Kate it becomes a battle of whose word gets believed, which can be seen as laughable with one being an adult and the other being a child, but the accumulating evidence that gets presented by a very smart Esther allows there to be questions continue to mount against Kate. In addition, you have the weirdness this film features with some strange vibes in keeping with what Esther represents in the marriage of John and Kate. It certainly does not help when she happens to be creepily watching when the married couple engages in sex. Not great by any stretch but there’s an extra weirdness to it when it’s an adopted child. This film gets filled to the brim with so many unnervingly uncomfortable moments that will make you want to look away, which very much exists as the intention of this film and it nails those moments so well, especially because it involves a child.
Everything in this film builds up to deciphering the deal with Esther as she certainly does not act like a typical child and not in a way where she was exposed to horrific things prior to her placement in an orphanage. That level of trauma presents itself in a certain way. Something else lies beneath the surface that could possibly explain this situation and it becomes a race to find out what it could be and if it will be too late when it eventually becomes apparent It begs the question of whether it’s something supernatural within her or something else that could possibly explain what could be happening here.
To sell the terror Esther subjects this family to, it gets helped up by a tremendous performance put on by Isabelle Fuhrmann. Running in contention of one of the greatest child performances in history, she helps create tense situations by simply smiling in a way that disturbs. At a young age, she has the ability to go head-to-head with someone like Vera Farmiga and so much at such a young age. She more than holds her own and absolutely shines in this film in such a delightful way. It truly astounds the more you think of it and then compounded with the ultimate reveal the film presents later to craft something simply outstanding that a child actor could piece together something like this.
While not filled with jump scares or moments that will make you scream, Orphan operates in the horrors of the familial structure and how quickly it can be shattered and dismantled with just one bad actor operating in a malicious way. It shows a child going head-to-head with adults in ways to drive them insane before revealing the big secret. Levels of manipulation and deception work to a fantastic effect to show much power a very smart child has if they wanted to completely take over a household much like Esther has decided she wants. Certainly a unique horror film in its composition and it gave us the rise of Isabelle Fuhrman, which we should be eternally thankful for.