Orphan initially fails. Its trend of ridiculous, repetitive fake scares and preparation for another “creepy kid” movie are almost too much.
Something happens to Orphan though. It begins to build deep, flawed characters. Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) lost her unborn child, succumbing to alcoholism and undergoing recurring nightmares about the incident. Her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) cheated on her 10 years ago, and their marriage remains strained.
They make the decision to adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a Russian girl with an increasingly mysterious past, who begins to break the family apart. She manipulates John to turn on Kate, brilliantly breaking the family down, all with a creepy, eerie smile.
Orphan has a fantastic balance, ignoring a need for immediate scares with softer, even emotional moments. The Coleman’s actual daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) is deaf. At five years old, her favorite children’s book is one about what happened to Kate’s unborn daughter. Kate signs the book to her at story time, the emotional toll evident on Kate’s face as Max smiles, happy to enjoy her mother’s company.
The film has two hours to work its magic, and while seemingly slow, the pacing is purposeful. Esther does not come into the home and immediately begin a slaughter. She establishes herself, slowly terrorizing the family mentally and the two other Coleman kids who live in fear of their new sister.
At times, Esther seems too intelligent, too manipulative for her age. This is explained away in a fantastic twist at the end, one that opens the finale up to a classic horror ending that pulls the audience in while leading to an unforgettable final line that just fits. Orphan is far more than a derivative “killer child” film, one beautifully shot by director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has absolved himself from the miserable House of Wax (2005) completely.
Orphan is intentionally muted and flat, although this VC-1 encode suffers from that aesthetic choice. Colors are drab but presented well. Film grain is preserved nicely, while noise creeps into the frame with some regularity.
Sharpness is excellent, and only minor ringing is evident, at its worst outdoors in the woods behind the home. Detail is fair and not as clearly defined as the format’s best. Shadow delineation is solid at the expense of black levels, which never reach an adequate depth. The opening dream sequence is completely blown out on purpose, and is not a sign of how the film will look for the remainder.
A TrueHD mix sits in the front channels, offering limited surround work. The highlight is a fire late into the movie, with a clean low end rumbling under the action from the flames, and falling debris evident in the well-spaced fronts. Mild action elsewhere is limited, with the score barely leaving the stereo and center channels. Dialogue is mixed nicely without necessary volume adjustment.
A featurette holds some promise, titled Mama’s Little Devils. It is advertised as a look at the various “killer child” films that came before Orphan, but instead chooses to advertise Orphan and how it treats this sub-genre differenty. Deleted scenes include an alternate ending that wisely cut, and generic BD-Live support offers nothing on Orphan itself.
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