Over the summer 'Orphan' became the most controversial movie in the world without anyone having actually, you know, seen it. (Groups have claimed that the movie has an anti-adoption agenda, because as we all know from the barrage of posters, trailers, and television spots - this is about an evil little girl who, after being adopted by a loving family, wreaks bloody havoc.) And while that inadvertent little burst of media hype may have done something to raise awareness (of the movie, not their cause) it didn't provoke many people to actually go out and see it.
That's a shame, since the movie isn't a terribly bad piece of B-movie trash. (This is said in the most loving way possible.) In fact, it's a fairly stylish and psychologically complex riff on the evil child movies we all know and love ('The Innocents,' 'Village of the Damned,' 'Bad Seed,' 'The Omen,' the list goes on).
The movie opens with a truly awesome dream sequence, wherein Vera Farmiga gives birth to a goopy stillborn baby while surrounded by a ghoulish nurses. You see, she's dealing with the recent birth of a stillborn baby, as well as residual guilt over her alcoholism (that led to a near-fatal accident involving one of her other children). We're soon introduced to her family, including husband Peter Sarsgaard (who has his own skeletons in the closet) and two children (Jimmy Bennett and Aryana Engineer). The couple decides on a solution to their heartache: adoption. Personally, I would have suggested 'go on a cruise,' but I guess adoption is just as good.
Except that the precocious child they insist on bringing home (Isabelle Fuhrman) isn't exactly what they had hoped for. She's a conniving, unusual, lecherous, and murderous little fiend, with a Bela Lugosi accent and some outdated style decisions. And while Vera is convinced of this fairly early on (having already been through another evil child movie, 2007's drab 'Joshua'), nobody else pays much attention, shrugging her off as another hysterical, overly emotional woman.
The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, is a pretty talented dude. He directed the 'House of Wax' remake for the same studio (Joel Silver's genre arm Dark Castle), which, while being saddled with some ridiculous stunt casting (Paris Hilton), still managed to be a rip-roaring horror movie. 'House' really took off in its final act, where Collet-Serra showed a Zemeckis-like dexterity for upping the ante in cumulative suspense set pieces. This is also the case with 'Orphan,' whose last act is also its best. It's just that, unlike House of Wax,' there's a lot of padding in 'Orphan' that maybe should be applauded (deeper characterizations and complex interpersonal relationships are the last things you except from a horror movie and are hard to criticize), really do slow things down considerably. Its running time pushes the two hour mark while it could have easily been a svelte 90 minutes.
There is, however, a twist in the last act that really energizes things and brings the whole enterprise to a new level of outrageousness. (And, yes, you'll still have to watch it to find out.) Both Farmiga and Sarsgaard (always a fan of the genre, check out his underrated voodoo movie 'The Skeleton Key') commit to their roles with much relish, and Isabelle Fuhrman really rises to the challenge in a fairly difficult role - besides being an evil little kid, she also had to provide a convincing accent. She succeeds in both regards.
The elements that sizzle in 'Orphan' really work, but those long stretches where things are just quietly unfolding drag the movie down to an almost unbearable degree. Things need to happen in movies like this - big, splashy, blood-soaked things. And if those things don't happen often enough, well, we're going to feel let down, no matter how outrageous the climax may be. It's a B-movie that earns its B grade admirably, even while striving to be something a little bit grander.
It should be noted, however, that the main villain of the film, even beyond the demonic child killer, is the setting, the lovely state where I live, Connecticut. In 'Orphan,' we're exposed to the world of Connecticut as a barren, post-apocalyptic, snow-blasted landscape, full of roadways shellacked with ice and dangerous, not-nearly-frozen-enough ponds and enough snow-covered hidey holes that you can very easily get away with murder. (Of course, this being a Hollywood production, it was filmed in Canada.) Thank god Hollywood has exposed Connecticut for what it really is - an unlivable wasteland full of torment, psychic despair, and (to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in '1408') evil fuckin' kids. (Editor's Note: I moved to Connecticut in the 7th grade. Yeah, that about sums up my feelings on the place!)
'Orphan' sports a really wonderful transfer. It's quite evident that much care and attention went into the movie, in an attempt to make it more than the charmingly junky B-movie it ended up being. The 50 GB disc's VC-1 1080p transfer (1.78: 1 aspect ratio) exemplifies this, giving the warmth of the house the right glow, which contrasts with the stark, snowy exteriors.
Skin tones, which are often somewhat muted (a deliberate choice and not a fault of the transfer), look great throughout. Detail is truly dynamic, and when colors need to pop (like a splash of blood or some black light-revealed neons paintings), they bring it, adding the right amount of pizzazz to the otherwise subdued color palette. Depth is nice, blacks and shadows are deep, and there isn't pesky DNR to contend with, nor are there any other glaring technical issues.
'Orphan's solid technical presentation is the kind that is all too often overlooked when sizing up high definition releases, since it lacks robots or apocalyptic fallout or the other kinds of things that make you go 'wow.'. But it's really just as good.
Similarly, 'Orphan' sports an impressive lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, one that is just as easy to overlook, if you're not paying attention.
This is a fairly quiet movie, punctuated by loud sequences of intensity and violence, and the mix does a good job of representing both aspects of the movie. The emphasis here is on ambience and atmospherics, since those loud sequences are few and far between. It sounds great, and really adds to the overall feeling of impending doom that the movie works so hard to provide.
Dialogue is clean, crisp, and well prioritized. The mix has a surprising amount of muscle when it wants to, and its commitment to an atmospheric surround mix (particularly the rear channel stuff) is truly commendable. The dread-filled orchestral score sounds great too. Overall, a very strong mix indeed.
Other audio options on the disc are Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The extras on this disc are pretty thin.
In addition to a bonus disc of 'Orphan,' which allows you to unlock a digital copy. There are...
'Orphan' is a charming, if imperfect little horror movie that sits comfortably in the evil little kid sub-genre while trying desperately to transcend it. While that doesn't happen, exactly, it's still a whole lot of fun, with some fine performances and generally twisted revelations. This Blu-ray disc from Warner Bros. is quite impressive, with wonderful audio and video. Sure, the special features disappoint big time, but when a disc looks and sounds this good, it's easy to forgive. If you wants some spooky chills, you could do a lot worse than to adopt this 'Orphan.' Recommended.