Monday, February 1, 2010

Orphan (2009)

If you've ever considered adoption as an option then this is probably not the picture for you. If you're a woman who had to carry a dead baby in your womb for a few weeks before expelling the fetus and also you had a problem with alcohol and maybe a husband who strayed once or twice in the past then this is definitely not the movie for you. Orphan will probably do for adopting nine year old Russian children what Jaws did for going in the water or what Alien did for breaking off return voyages to earth in order to investigate derelict space crafts. This is a surprisingly good movie.

Vera Farmiga (The Departed) stars as Kate Coleman, a woman in a so-so marriage to Peter Sarsgaard and also with two children, Max (a near-deaf mute girl) and Daniel. Kate and her husband don't seem very happy, especially with the whole carrying a dead baby to term thing, so it seems like the appropriate thing would be to take the love they were gonna give the dead baby and give it to some other child in need of love, perhaps an orphan or something. So, without further adieu, they hit up the local orphanage (run by nun CCH Pounder) and, after a brief bit of window shopping, decide on the seemingly brilliant, wise beyond her years, incredible painter, able to play Tchaikovsky and so on, 9 year old Russian girl with the odd, out dated manner of dressing, bow ties in her hair, incredible grasp of english, etc. I know what they were probably thinking. This girl may be weird but if she keeps developing at this rate she'll probably be worth millions. We're gonna be fucking rich, etc. Unfortunately, they're not aware of the spoiler that I'm not gonna spoil. Fuck, they ain't gonna get rich off this "little" brat at all. Unless by "get rich" I mean get dead, which I don't.

Also, I love the adoption process in this movie. Most places, it probably takes months (or longer). Here, you get your pick of the litter, sign a few papers, and after a few weeks of waiting get to bring the little shit home. I mean, I don't even remember a scene where CCH said anything about background checks they need to run on the Colemans (alcoholism, infidelity, etc might be issues). Also, what about a background check on this little girl? This little girl that is supposedly from Russia, where her last family was burned down with a house (an unsolved case of arson). There are questions that need some answerin is all I'm saying. Also, her name is Esther which is a pretty odd name for a nine year old girl even if she is from "Russia". And, what's with me putting quotes around various words that describe Esther. Could it be she's not whatever or whomever she claims to be (also claimed on her "official" papers)?

So, anyway, Esther comes home and needs to be integrated into the family. Max immediately falls in love with her but I think it's just because Esther learned sign language in about three days. Sarsgaard's father character adores her but I think it's because she tells him everything he wants to hear except for towards the end when she starts telling him things that no father wants to hear his daugther tell him. Daniel is immediately jealous which eventually turns into suspicious, but he's got his reasons. Things seem to go well until Esther goes to school and is made fun of for the way she talks, dresses, walks, etc. It doesn't pay to be different if you're a "little" girl is one of the morals of this story. Also, don't make fun of "little" girls because they might push you off a slide or maybe threaten you with castration, etc.

Things quickly deteriorate within the household. Sides are taken. Max and the Sarsgaard character (I think his name was John) initially side with Esther while in the other corner we got Kate and Daniel. Kate's corner isn't very strong though since she's got the whole alcoholism thing in her past which threatens to crop up especially after bottles start appearing even though she didn't drink from them. And then Daniel gets trapped in a burning tree house and ends up falling out in an effort to save himself. Now, I'm not gonna say Esther is to blame but it doesn't look good when we see her douse the thing in lighter fluid and then light the match. Also, the scene where she murders CCH Pounder who shows up with some information that might lead to Esther being taken away. Also the scene where she tells Daniel after he witnesses some of her shenanigans "If you tell anyone what you saw I'll cut off your hairless little prick before you know what it's for". Now, I gotta be honest. These aren't the type of things you'd expect to hear coming out of the mouth of a "nine year old" girl. Just seems strange is all. She's either older beyond her years or maybe she forged that birth certificate. Nah, can't be. She looks nine to me.

The picture relies a little too much on jump scares at first but then it settles in nicely as Esther plays Kate and John against each other which ends with John threatening to leave Kate unless she quits drinking. Even the shitty therapist Kate is seeing doesn't believe her when Kate says "her child" is evil personified. "Just look at her" the therapist says, "Does she look evil to you?" I don't know. I think...yes, she kinda does. I have to say that Farmiga is terrific in this role. We got her back story involving the failed pregnancy and the alcoholism which led to one child almost falling through some ice and dying (which leads me to believe there might be some foreshadowing involved here). We got her strained relationship with Sarsgaard who has that whole minimalist, always calm, style of acting down to a science. We got them having weird, inappropriate (considering the kids upstairs), sex in the kitchen. We got the relationship between her and her mother in law which seems a bit tense to say the least. But we also got a mother who will do anything to save the lives of her kids. It doesn't take long before she realizes Esther ain't one of her kids so if she needs to ---spoiler --- die, then fuck it. The bitch dies. Not that Kate flat out murders the "little" (hint: quotes are not used in reference to size) shit or anything.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther is sort of a revelation who may never find work outside of this type again. She needs to disappear for a while and come back to acting, ideally, after having her name legally changed. She's creepy as hell. Yeah, she looks evil but unlike that Omen remake kid she does more than just look the part. She embodies it. The climax involves her doing things no child actor should ever be asked to do. Is it exploitative? I think, probably, yes it is. Is it effective? Absolutely. The twist, which I have in no way hinted at above, might seem ridiculous at first. But it worked for me. I heard about it when this thing came out and then I completely forgot about it until it was revealed. If you don't see the movie and just have it spoiled for you, you probably won't want to see the movie anymore. There are a couple murders in the picture that are shockingly brutal (and realistic) when you consider that the perpetrator is only "nine" fucking years old. This is a good one, probably underrated. It's more consistently entertaining than The Other with an almost as horrific ending. I was surprised.


Megmo Eskimo said...

Kirker, I had NO intention of seeing this movie until your review. Now it will be one of the next movies I rent!

P.S. Thank you for not spoiling the "twist."

P.P.S. I think you should incorporate more "quotes" around random words in your subsequent reviews...

brian said...

Glad I could "persuade" you. Hope you "enjoy" the movie.