Horror review: Orphan

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JULY 24, 2009

By Steve Newton

When you’re filming a killer-orphan flick, it makes sense to have the killer orphan taken in by a secure, happy family, so that the new addition’s sinister intent contrasts starkly with the underlying vibe of domestic well-being.

Try telling that to the makers of Orphan.

The Connecticut clan that adopts nine-year-old Esther (12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman) includes recovering alcoholic mom Kate (Vera Farmiga), who is grieving the recent stillbirth of her third child; her dull, unfaithful husband, John (Peter Sarsgaard); their insolent adolescent son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett); and the five-year-old daughter, Max (Vancouver’s impressive Aryana Engineer), who went deaf from an accident while in her mother’s questionable care. Dump a murderous psycho brat with a corny Russian accent into that troubled mix and you’ve got a real horror show on your hands.

But not a good one.

Esther comes across all charming and sensitive when first meeting the Colemans, but as soon as the paperwork’s done and she’s settled into their upscale digs, the angelic demeanour dries up. Before you can say “The Bad Seed just got badder,” she’s attacking her snotty classroom rival on the playground, casually crushing injured pigeons with bricks, and threatening to castrate her stepbrother with a carpet knife.

To make matters worse, she’s causing friction—or, more accurately, a lack of it—between her new parents, who can’t get it on with her skulking around at night, curtailing their doggie-style antics in the kitchen.

Countless horror clichés are trotted out in this grim, two-hour train wreck, which was helmed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who did a surprisingly good job of gruesomely updating House of Wax back in 2005. Orphan’s painfully predictable story line gets bent way out of shape by a preposterous plot twist that will leave horror fans shaking their heads in sadness and disbelief that their beloved genre could sink so low.

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