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Return to Sender: Not even gore can save the Orphan from its own gimmicks 

She paints beautifully, Honey. And silly you thought she was trying to kill us! Opening with an over-the-top bloody delivery room dream sequence, Orphan shows

click to enlarge She paints beautifully, Honey. And silly you thought she was trying to kill us!
  • She paints beautifully, Honey. And silly you thought she was trying to kill us!
She paints beautifully, Honey. And silly you thought she was trying to kill us!Opening with an over-the-top bloody delivery room dream sequence, Orphan shows some promise. But soon, it quickly dissolves into the opening class session for Formulaic Horror Moviemaking 101 with an insulting script destined to make you roll your eyes about 50 times.

This insidious stab at the genre takes everything beyond believability, losing any credibility almost immediately. A troubled wife (Vera Farmiga) has demons to exorcise from her past revolving around the loss of her daughter. With two kids already and the blessing of a worthless psychiatrist (inadequately played by Margo Martindale), she and husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) are off to an orphanage to pick smiling and lonely Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Artistic, intelligent and world-savvy, Esther is no regular small fry. Unconvincingly enamored, the couple takes the child home to ruin their lives with one despicable act after another.  

When things go dastardly wrong around them like accidents and murders, it becomes unclear-not to mention maddening-as to why it's so difficult for the parents to connect the dots. These smart people don't believe, trust or support one another to any degree. That flaw aside, the biggest question remaining is that with all the psycho babble and soap opera discourse, why a dysfunctional family would be allowed to (or even want to) add another member, let alone a nine-year-old antisocial loner. The wedge that Esther seemingly drives between family members is already there-yet poorly conveyed. First-time writers David Johnson (screenplay) and Alex Mace (story) want us to believe that mom is going crazy without one iota of imagination in the storytelling. Lacking surreal images to confuse, the film sticks with by-the-book dialogue that borders on defective. When one of the lines describes a character's hearing as, "She can hear good enough to read lips," you know you're in trouble. I kept thinking of what a treat this movie would've been if it was made in the late '60s or '70s. With bad acting and crummy sets this could have been a drive-in classic. As it is, the best part of this movie is Esther's artwork and the creepy credits.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra (House Of Wax remake) tries his darnedest to make this movie look cool and delivers a few decent jolts, but can't raise any life from the predictable script. Even with all of the horror movie scare tricks (including the dreaded medicine cabinet mirror closing scene), stylish direction and snowy scenery this movie veers into the completely ludicrous far too often. Bad cinema gimmicks abound: a poorly hidden diary, a Russian Bible, ribbons covering scars, bludgeoning, car wrecks, pigeon abuse, stabbings and fires are all tossed into the mix of conventional clichés. On the plus side, Orphan does deliver some gruesome gory scenes and doesn't skimp on the blood. It's The Omen gone turbo with a serial killer flair.

The cast members perform as if they believe they're actually in a good film. Farmiga goes in all directions, shooting for love, rage, joy, self-confidence, self-pity, self-righteousness and super-doubt as the beleaguered wife and mother. Fuhrman is great as the sinister smarty-pants, and both kids, Max and Daniel (Aryana Engineer, Jimmy Bennett), act genuinely frightened as tormented children. The main exception is Sarsgaard who whines his way through his role like he wishes he were in another movie.

There is a supreme twist ending that had me chuckling to myself, though I wouldn't say it falls under the heading of a shocker. The tag line says, "You'll never guess her secret." By the time it's revealed, my guess is you'll have passed the point of caring.  

Orphan ★✩✩✩✩
Starring Vera Farminga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, Aryana Engineer, Jimmy Bennet. Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra. Rated R.


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