Orphanrecommended viewing

POTBOILER!
★★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: 
Vera Farmiga, Peter Satgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer
The Setup: 
Screwed-up couple adopt a girl with severe problems.
Discussion: 

When one is traveling alone, there isn’t a lot to do in the hours from six, when you have dinner, to eleven, when you might go out to explore the nightlife. And although I feel bad about seeing a movie I could see at home while in a foreign country [Canada!], usually at least once a trip I end up doing just that. Plus after a while you get tired of having to “take advantage” of your new locale and just want to relax. In this instance I am in Vancouver, a city that everyone else seems to love but that I find I don’t have much positive to say about. Maybe because my introduction to the city was having to flee my reserved hotel because confirmed bedbug sightings [can’t wait to wash all my clothes before entering my apartment and sealing my luggage in poison-filled plastic bags upon arriving home!] and the massive overcharging I’m experiencing at most attractions, leading me to generate new taglines for the Vancouver tourist board: Vancouver: We’re Gonna Gouge Ya! And Vancouver: A Payinfull Experience!

Secondly, once more I must apologize for failing you, my bad movie loving public, for ignoring the merde in our midst until it’s almost out of theaters. The last time this happened was with Knowing, which I also saw while on a trip. On the other hand, we must sacrifice a virgin to the bad movie Gods that they rewarded us with Knowing AND Orphan in the same year. But enough pointless biographical blather before we get to the review… you might think you were reading Ain’t It Cool News.

I skipped this movie because a) the trailer made it look AWFUL, b) killer kid movies are usually pretty tame and lame [witness Joshua] and c) the last Vera Farmiga killer kid movie I saw, which was indeed Joshua, sucked ass. Usually the kids never really do anything that awful… you know, push a few people into traffic here, knock someone out of a treehouse there… kid stuff. Not so Orphan! The blood starts flowing early, and doesn’t let up! So let’s get down yeah baby let’s get down!

We begin in blur-o-vision with Vera as Kate being wheeled into a hospital to have a baby. She starts bleeding profusely from her cooch. The nurse says sorry, the baby’s dead as a rock, but Kate says no, I can feel it kicking, then they present her with a nasty bloody infant—and she wakes! Actually you could totally tell it was a dream from all the blurriness and surreality. She’s having issues because her last pregnancy was a stillbirth, which might have something to do with her former alcoholism, and the fact that she’s going to start shopping for replacement kids that weekend, because she feels like she needs to because the stillbirth let down her husband, John.

Actually this family is a hotbed of issues. They have a young daughter, Max, who is deaf because of something involving the pond out back of their de rigueur fabulous home, which is Kate’s fault because she was hitting the booze when she should have been minding the kids. There are other issues, which get doled out later, but I’ll just dump it all now. Her husband, John, had affairs back when. Anything else? Seems like there’s more… Anyway, Kate obviously still has some serious issues, because she nearly has a car accident with little Max in the car. I read a review that said it’s better when evil kids are placed in good families, but here it’s important that Kate be a mess with a poor history of child care so it will make it plausible later that SHE is having issues and the new adoptee they get is an innocent cherub.

The movie is a little worried that its audience won’t be able to sustain their attention, so there are a few absolutely pointless jump scares up front. Does ANYONE enjoy these? Join me in starting a petition to ban the inclusion of pointless jump scares in modern crap horror. Together, we can move mountains.

So they go to the orphanage where they barely look at the other girls before they meet creepy Esther upstairs painting eerily accomplished pictures. If you know the twist of the movie, which I knew going in, a lot of the stuff up here makes sense later. Her picture is about a mommy lion who lost her kids, but turns out they were alive and she found them—so there’s some thematic resonance with Kate and John. They’re both charmed by her maturity and poise, and decide to wrap her up and take her home. Sister Abigail, the kindly nun at the orphanage, tells them she came from Russia [listen for her on-again off-again accent] and that the family that brought her over died in a fire. She also tells them that Esther never gives them any trouble—except when they try to remove the ribbons that she wears around her neck and wrists. John and Kate think it’s just a Russian thing, and there’s no more about it. If you’re familiar with the classic ghost story “The Velvet Ribbon,” you know there’s something going on under there, but, well, I guess John and Kate aren’t up on their classic ghost stories.

So they bring her home, where Max takes an immediate shine to her, but she’s not liked by their older son, Daniel. I spent the whole movie wondering where I had seen Jimmy Bennett, who plays Daniel—I KNOW I’ve seen those teeth before—and it turns out he played the kid Kirk in the new Star Trek movie. Also present is Grandma Barbara, John’s mother, who has quite a few sharp insinuations to make about Kate’s mothering skills. I took one look at her and thought “Well, guess who’s fated to die?” But of course I can’t reveal what actually transpires. I need to also mention at some point that Kate has really fucking annoying hair, and it stays annoying throughout the whole movie.

Now there’s just a bunch of development stuff. There’s a snotty future-victim girl at school that makes fun of Esther. Kate shows Esther a rose bush where she put the ashes of her stillborn daughter, and “as long as it keeps growing” she’ll know the girl is in heaven or whatever. Obviously that bush is another future victim! Esther has a bizarre thick Russian bible she keeps hidden, but wussy Kate, who is afraid to set boundaries, doesn’t look at it. There’s a hot divorcee in town putting the moves on John. Then there’s a funny sequence in which the bitch girl from school walks around this wooden playset while all these horror music cues play. It’s the most terrifying playground equipment in movie history! Esther shows up out of nowhere and shoves her, but unfortunately the girl lives. Snore. Luckily Esther is about to up the savagery big time.

SPOILERS > > >
So then Sister Abigail comes to call, saying they have to do a factory recall on Esther. The little monster overhears and enlists Max, who is her little confidante, to break into John’s safe, where she finds a gun! She holds the gun to little six-year-old Max’s head—woah!—then grabs a hammer and they head out by the snowy bridge. This is all in the dead of winter, by the way. As Abigail is driving away, Esther shoves Max into her way, she swerves, wrecks the car, and gets out to blubber over her, at which point Esther bludgeons her with the hammer! Innocent Max is all weepy, when Esther says “Stop crying! Grab a foot and help me get her off the road!” They do, and since she’s still moaning, Esther repeatedly bashes her skull in, getting all bloody in the process. This is no tame kinda-mean kid movie! Esther implies all sorts of badness that might happen to Max and or mommy and daddy if Max tells. Soon she’s holding a box cutter to Daniel’s throat and extorting his silence as well. We also see that Esther’s paintings have whole layers of violent content that only appears under black light—neat trick!

By now Kate is starting to have her suspicions, but John is telling her that she’s nuts and has always been a psycho with serious issues anyway. Esther has been sweetening up to daddy big time, and when he tells her Kate might love it if she did something nice for her, Esther brings her flowers—remember the rose bush we knew wasn’t long for this world? Kate freaks and jerks Esther around by the arm, but John defends the little girl. Then Esther goes into the workroom, and breaks her own arm in the vice! This girl is hardcore. She tells daddy, and he tells Kate to sleep downstairs.

Kate high-tails it to the liquor store, and while I don’t mean to be callous about alcoholism, it’s always a blast in movies when recovering alcoholics give up and hit the booze! Kate brings the booze back home [uh, IDIOT?] and pours one bottle out without opening the other. Then Esther puts the car in neutral with Max in it, making it look like Kate is endangering the kids again, and when she gets back home, Esther has of course pointed out the empty wine bottle. John, who by this time is being a FUCKING COCK to Kate, tells her if she’s not in rehab within a week, he’s leaving and taking the kids. You in the audience are sitting there thinking “He is going to owe her the world’s biggest apology…”

By this time it’s full-on war between Kate and Esther, although Kate is still being a puss and won’t go full-on with it. For example, WHY does the idiot do her research into Esther’s background while right there in the house with Esther and the snotty grandmother? They HAVE internet cafes, you know. You can get wireless at any Starbucks. Anyway, while this is going on, Daniel is out trying to get the evidence of Abigail’s death out of the treehouse, when Esther locks him in there and sets it on fire. He ends up falling and having to be taken to the hospital, where Esther loses no time in trying to finally off him for good. This is partly the fault of smug moron grandma, who I can now reveal lives to the end, although if there was anyone I wanted to die… Anyway, Kate freaks and attacks Esther, and now KATE is stuck in the hospital. Geez, and RIGHT when that crucial call comes in from the mysterious Russian orphanage with the answers to Esther’s past! Sure hope Kate checks her voice mail in timely fashion.

Well, now it’s John that’s hitting the booze and cigarettes. Esther comes downstairs in a sexy black dress and makeup, and puts the moves on dad. He suddenly has a big breakdown, which kind of comes out of the blue since he seemed at best slightly irritated by the whole situation, but finally tells her no, daddy’s dick is going to stay in his pants. Meanwhile, at his hospital, Kate finally gets that important call! And the secret twist is…

MEGA-SPOILERS! ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO KNOW? > > >
It’s no Russian orphanage—it’s an Estonian mental institution! And guess what? Esther is no nine-year-old. She has a chromosomal imbalance and is actually 33 YEARS OLD! She moves into families, splits the mom and dad up, and tries to seduce the dad. When he refuses, she kills them all!

This, of course, happens during a driving snowstorm. Now, there’s no way I’m going to spoil the balls-out ending for you, as it’s just too wild, but I will make a few observations. First, Kate becomes a serious offender of distracted driving. John finds some secret paintings of him and Esther doing the hokey-pokey, but you’ll notice that in then Esther is full-sized, because there is NO WAY any movie is going to show, you know, THAT. Next, I don’t know how I might react in such a situation, but if I were to find a bloody corpse in my house with the murderer still at large on the premises, I doubt I would waste precious survival time blubbering over the corpse. Maybe I’m just cold. We again learn that if the psychopathic murderer is just knocked down and unconscious, do not leave them alone until you have put a bullet in their head! And finally, looks like Kate’s never gonna get that apology…

Before we get out of the spoilers, I want to point out that the reason most killer kid movies are so lame is precisely that the evil ones ARE kids, and as such can’t really be too bad without peeving parent’s associations and outraging religious groups. Therefore, the whole reason Esther CAN be so bad is precisely that she’s NOT a kid. Which is part of what makes this movie so uncomfortable for so long—you can’t BELIEVE this kid is pushing six-year-olds into traffic and bludgeoning old nuns, and it definitely takes you out of the comfort zone… which is part of why I believe this movie is considered “bad.” But we’ll pick this up after we invite the non-spoiler folks back in.
< < < SPOILERS END

In retrospect, I wouldn’t say this movie is really that “bad”—of course, we at Cinema de Merde believe that bad/good distinctions are usually fairly pointless anyway—I would just say that it is so discomfiting for so long—she’s just a KID!—that it makes you feel a little funny. And then, this twist is SUCH a leap—although a fairly ingenious one, I think—that it maybe jars the audience a little too much. And it comes a little late in the movie, too, for such a big re-arrangement of everything you thought you understood. And as you know, when people are uncomfortable and don’t understand a movie, they usually decide that it’s bad. Why, even look at me: I started this review by saying this was a bad movie in the vein of Knowing, but now, after a little processing [and a day’s time] I kind of think it’s pretty clever.

Which is not to say it’s not still a hoot. The movie has a fair amount of setup—most of which is relevant, so I don’t begrudge the two hour-plus running time. I was snickering throughout, and the whole thing is a great deal of evil fun. Furthermore, it seems to know it, and has tongue planted in cheek. Nevertheless, I think one would be better prepared if one didn’t go in expecting a GOOD movie.

Anyway, yeah, tons of fun! Yay, Orphan! Yay, killer kids! Go in expecting a big silly potboiler and Esther’ll show you a good time.

Should you watch it: 

Sure! It’s really fun!