In short, this movie can be classified in the "killer kids" subsect of film, but in my book, it ups the ante considerably on any of the others to have come down the pike in recent history (and I'm stretching back to the 70s here, so don't throw The Omen out there as a trump card- that boring turd is creepy only if you buy into all that religious shuck and jive). Orphan is the story of a family putting itself back together after losing one child to miscarriage and almost losing another to the pitfalls of the mother's drinking problem. As the more astute of you might expect from the title, Moms and Pops decide to hit the orphanage to grab themselves a replacement child and fall head over heels with Esther, a precocious nine-year old Russian doll. As Esther and the family try to acclimate themselves to the new living situation, we're quick to find out that Esther is a bit of a hot-head and a lot more worldy than we gave her credit for. Moms is quick to wise up to the fact that something is more than a little off with Esther. Pops won't hear it. He's enamored with their new little kakashka. Who's gonna believe the heavily medicated and former alkie stew bum Moms anyway? Things escalate at a rapid and murderous pace from there on out. I can't say much more without giving away that twist ending.
To heap further praise on this well-deserving flick, nobody in the cast annoyed me (which was amazing in the case of Peter Sarsgaard). The kids are stellar, especially seeing as how the weight of the movie fell on their shoulders. Issabelle Fuhrman (Esther) is totally believable as a devious little twat and shines even more after the twist ups the film's ante considerably. Aryana Engineer plays Max, the family's deaf younger daughter, and she pulls off this weighty role with an aplomb that few child actors would have been able to muster. Jimmy Bennett has a great goofy yet believable look and demeanor that totally works for him as Daniel, the Guitar Hero-playing, porn-hoarding, Esther-hating oldest sibling. In my younger days, he would have no doubt been relegated to being the rote star of "ABC After School Specials" and S.E. Hinton film adaptations, but luckily enough for him, he lives in a time where he's nabbing major film roles (young James T. Kirk in the latest Star Trek outing, anyone?). I'd say you'll be seeing a lot of him in the years to come...at least until he slides into the quagmire of post-adolescent child-star self-pity and drug addiction. Oh yeah, additional cheers to the person that cast CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail; she's always a treat to watch.
It'll be interesting to see what director Jaume Collet-Serra does next. Truth be told, I didn't at all mind his House of Wax, and felt it suffered from the disadvantage of having that name slapped across it. If it had been given a decent title that wasn't referrential to a film classic (a remake in name only, if you ask me), I think more folks would have stopped bitching and enjoyed it for the fun albeit mindless romp that it was. Now he gives us Orphan - a damn good little suspense flick that could have gone wrong in so many ways but was kept on track and moved along gracefully under his guidance. So cheers to Collet-Serra and screenwriter David Johnson (working from a story by Alex Mace). Hell, they faked me out and didn't have to cheat to do it. They might have set the adoption process back a few decades, but I guess decent flicks don't come cheap these days. Go see it now before some asshole gives away the twist. You'll enjoy actually being cold-cocked by one for a change.
3.5 out of 5 hammer & sickles, I mean stars.