'Orphan': Screamingly obvious menace quickly kills any sense of suspense
The horror movie "Orphan" (starring Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) is frighteningly predictable. Review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.
Seattle Times movie critic
"Orphan," with Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson. 123 minutes. Rated R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language. Several theaters; see Page 17.
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When you can immediately identify the equivalent of the red-shirt guys in "Star Trek" (that is, the character who will meet an early and fairly spectacular demise), a thriller gets a little less thrilling. In Jaume Collet-Serra's scary-kid tale "Orphan," the villain — and the smartest person on screen by a longshot — is an eerily pale 9-year-old. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is newly arrived in the Coleman family, and the adjustment isn't exactly smooth. She makes big-eyed appearances precisely when her parents (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard) are trying to solve their sexual problems; she cuts her meat in a sinisterly precise way; she terrorizes her new siblings with her ability to handle a gun; and she's mean to a nice nun (CCH Pounder). Very mean.
Overlong and overwrought, "Orphan" stays faithful to every cliché of the genre. The nun at the orphanage allows a look of ominous concern to cross her face when Kate and John Coleman decide to adopt Esther, but quickly promises a rosy future. (Later in the movie, she suddenly and conveniently remembers that oh, right, terrible things happen to anyone who's near the kid.) John is charmed by his new daughter, while Kate quickly senses trouble and soon is busy doing what every concerned mother in the movies does: ignoring her kids and looking things up on Google. And it's perpetually snowing outside — the better to find danger on a frozen pond.
There's a veneer of class to "Orphan," though it's a B-movie by right. Farmiga and Sarsgaard are fine actors slumming, and everyone wears stylish gray and looks very art-directed. Collet-Serra doesn't miss a scary detail: Even the Colemans' bathroom cabinet makes gruesome squeaky noises, like it's auditioning for an even less subtle movie.
But it's hard for anyone other than the most devout horror fan to connect with this movie, in which nearly everybody (except Esther) seems more than a little dim, and the Coleman family secrets and tragedies pile up to the point at which you wonder why these people even leave the house, or why they don't just fix that cabinet. "We don't lock doors in this house," Kate tells Esther, who wants privacy for her bath. (Insert ominous music here.) Maybe they should.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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