Orphan (film)

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Orphan
Orphanposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Produced by Joel Silver
Susan Downey
Leonardo DiCaprio
Jennifer Davisson Killoran
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson
Story by Alex Mace
Starring Vera Farmiga
Peter Sarsgaard
Isabelle Fuhrman
CCH Pounder
Jimmy Bennett
Music by John Ottman
Cinematography Jeff Cutter
Editing by Timothy Alverson
Studio Dark Castle Entertainment
Appian Way Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • July 24, 2009 (2009-07-24)
Running time 123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20,000,000
Box office $78,337,373[1]

Orphan is a 2009 American psychological thriller horror film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. It stars Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and Isabelle Fuhrman. The film centers on a couple who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a mysterious nine-year old girl. Orphan was produced by Joel Silver and Susan Downey of Dark Castle Entertainment and Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran of Appian Way Productions.[2] The film was released theatrically in the United States on July 24, 2009.[3] The film received mixed critical reviews although Fuhrman's performance as Esther was acclaimed.

Plot[edit]

Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) are experiencing strains in their marriage after their third child was stillborn. The loss is particularly hard on Kate, who is also recovering from alcoholism. The couple decides to adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), from the local orphanage. While Kate and John's deaf-mute daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) embraces Esther almost immediately, their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is less welcoming.

Kate becomes suspicious that there might be problems in Esther's background when Esther expresses far more knowledge of sex than expected of a child her age. Her suspicions deepen when Esther seriously injures another girl who had bullied Esther at school at a local park. While she initially believes Esther's claim that it was an accident, Kate is further alarmed when Sister Abigail (C. C. H. Pounder), the head of the orphanage, warns her and John that bad things always seem to happen when Esther is around. Esther overhears this and, as Sister Abigail is leaving in her car, Esther pushes Max into its path, forcing her to swerve off the road. Sister Abigail rushes to see if Max is hurt, but Esther kills her with a hammer, then convinces Max to help her hide the weapon in their treehouse. Kate is convinced that something is very wrong with Esther, but John does not believe her. John tells Esther to get Kate something since Esther feels that Kate doesn't like her, but Esther purposefully picks the roses that were in Jessica (the stillborn child's) grave, angering Kate. Attempting to find out more about Esther, Kate finds the girl's hidden Bible and discovers that it came from the Saarne Institute in Estonia, which she eventually learns is a mental hospital. She e-mails a picture of Esther to them and asks for more information.

When Daniel learns about Sister Abigail's death from Max, he tells her of his plan to retrieve the hammer to prove Esther's guilt. However, Esther overhears their conversation and confronts Daniel as he searches the treehouse, setting it ablaze and locking Daniel inside in an attempt to kill him and destroy the evidence. Daniel falls to the ground trying to escape, and is knocked unconscious. Esther attempts to finish him off with a rock, but Max stops her. While Daniel is hospitalized from his fall, Esther slips into his room and smothers him with a pillow, stopping his heart, but doctors quickly revive him. Kate, realizing what happened, attacks Esther, but orderlies help John restrain her. As John takes Esther and Max home, doctors sedate Kate.

That night, a provocatively-dressed Esther tries to seduce a drunken John. Realizing Kate was right, John threatens to send Esther back to the orphanage. Meanwhile, as Kate is coming out of sedation, she receives a call from a doctor at the Saarne Institute, who reveals that Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer. She has hypopituitarism, a hormone disorder that stunted her physical growth, and has spent most of her life posing as a little girl. The doctor tells Kate that Leena is extremely violent and has murdered at least seven people, and that she bears scars on her neck and wrists, which Esther always kept covered, received while trying to escape her straitjacket. Among her victims were a family that adopted her in Estonia, whom she killed because the father rejected her sexual advances.

Leena flies into a rage after being spurned by John, and ransacks her room. Then, after removing the makeup, false teeth, and body wrappings that enhanced her illusion as youthful "Esther", Leena kills him with a knife. Max witnesses this, and hides. Kate, unable to get John on the phone, rushes home and finds him dead. Leena gets a gun from John's safe and shoots Kate in the arm, then goes searching for Max, finding her in the greenhouse. While Leena shoots at Max, Kate crawls onto the greenhouse roof, breaks through the glass above Leena, and lands on her, knocking her out. Kate takes the gun and leaves the greenhouse with Max.

Leena regains consciousness and finds Kate and Max outside near a frozen pond. Leena lunges at Kate, knocking the gun out of her hand and hurling them both onto the ice. As Max watches from a hill above, she picks up the gun and tries to shoot Leena, but hits and shatters the ice instead, causing Kate and Leena to drop into the water. After a brief struggle, Kate climbs partially out of the pond with Leena desperately clinging to her legs. Leena, pretending to revert to her little-girl persona, begs Kate not to let her die while hiding a knife behind her back. Kate angrily responds that she is not her mother, and kicks Leena in the face, breaking her neck and sending her sinking back into the pond. Max and Kate are met by the police moments after.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The film was shot in Canada, in the cities of Burlington, Toronto, Port Hope and Montreal.[2]

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #4 film in the box office for its opening weekend, making $12,770,000 total, behind G-Force, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Ugly Truth. The film has grossed a total of $78,337,373.[4]

Home media[edit]

Orphan was released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 27, 2009 in the US by Warner Home Video. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on November 27 by Optimum Releasing. The home media include alternate scenes and footage, and one alternate ending marketed on the DVD cover. The opening previews also contain a PSA describing the plight of unadopted children in the USA and encouraging domestic adoption. A DVD of the film is seen in a scene from "This Means War".

Alternate ending[edit]

In an alternate ending, after Kate saves Max from Esther and they escape, Esther is seen hurrying into her room. There, she is shown with a face covered in bloody cuts while she re-applies her makeup which makes her look like innocent Esther again. She then puts on the dress she wore for her first day of school and greets the police, who arrived after receiving Kate's frantic call before she reached the house, at the top of the stairs by curtseying and introducing herself, and then she is seen descending the stairs into the crowd of police.

Alternate script[edit]

In earlier drafts of the script, Esther's attempt to kill Daniel in the hospital is successful.

Esther pins the murder of Sister Abigail on a homeless man in the park by hiding a grocery bag containing the bloody hammer and personal items from Abigail's car among the man's possessions. This was filmed, and part of it is featured as a deleted scene on the DVD.

Kate and John go to the orphanage not to see girls for the first time, but to bring presents to Yolanda, a 7-year-old Puerto Rican girl whom they plan on taking home the next day. There, they meet Esther (this scene plays out almost exactly as it does in the actual movie). Although she impresses them, especially John, she finds out that they've already adopted Yolanda. The next morning, Sister Judith finds Yolanda hanged in a closet; it is assumed that she died as a result of a game gone wrong, but implied that Esther killed her. John later suggests to Kate that they adopt Esther.

In earlier drafts of the script, Esther doesn't stab John to death. As he discovers the black light paintings in her room, she jumps out from beneath the pile of stuffed animals on her bed, stabs him in the eye with a pair of scissors, pushes him down the stairs (breaking his leg), and strangles him with a jump rope. The climax takes place entirely inside the house. Kate kills Esther by shooting her in the chest and (after she says, "Please don't hurt me, Mommy") between the eyes.

Esther's background[edit]

Earlier drafts of the script include more information about Esther's past and explain why she attempts to seduce her adoptive fathers: She was molested by her father for years, starting when she was an infant; this sexualized her at a very young age and destroyed any future chance of her having her own children. Her father later took another lover, telling Esther that, because of her condition, she could never be a real woman. She murdered them both and was ultimately sent to Saarne, a mental institution. After escaping from Saarne, she worked as a prostitute in Estonia for years, mostly catering to wealthy pedophiles. When she was arrested for this, she kept up the pretense of being a child to stay out of jail and was sent to an orphanage.

Esther sees herself as trapped inside the body of a child, and it disgusts her. She wants to "grow up" and be a wife, a mother, and a lover (what her father considered a "real woman"), and tries to find "love" with her father but she didn't.

Response[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reaction to Orphan has been mixed, with the film earning a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus is: "While it has moments of dark humor and the requisite scares, Orphan fails to build on its interesting premise and degenerates into a formulaic, sleazy horror/thriller".[5] It also earned a 42 out of 100 on Metacritic.[6] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Orphan 3½ stars out of 4, writing: "You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one."[7] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle also gave a positive review, saying: "Orphan provides everything you might expect in a psycho-child thriller, but with such excess and exuberance that it still has the power to surprise."[8]

Todd McCarthy of Variety, was less impressed, writing: "Teasingly enjoyable rubbish through the first hour, Orphan becomes genuine trash during its protracted second half."[9] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote, "Actors have to eat like the rest of us, if evidently not as much, but you still have to wonder how the independent film mainstays Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard ended up wading through Orphan and, for the most part, not laughing."[10] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D+ score, saying, "Orphan isn't scary — it's garish and plodding."[11]

Overtly negative reviews are abundant: from "galling, distasteful trash" (Eric D. Snider)[12] to "old-fashioned and trashy horror flick" (Emanuel Levy)[13] and "relentlessly bad", albeit "entertaining" (Rob Vaux).[14] According to Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews, "The problem with Orphan isn't merely that the film is idiotic--it's that it's also sleazy, formulaic and repellant."[15] And according to Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club, "If director Jaume Collet-Serra set out to make a parody of horror-film clichés, he succeeded brilliantly."[16]

Although the film received mixed reviews, Fuhrman's performance was acclaimed and positively received; Emanuel Levy writes Fuhrman "acquits herself with a strong performance, affecting a rather convincing Russian accent and executing sheer evil with an admirable degree of calm and earnestness."[13] Todd McCarthy proclaims that Fuhrman (as well as fellow juvenile cast members Aryana Engineer and Jimmy Bennett) are terrific and that Fuhrman "makes Esther calmly beyond reproach even when faced with monumental evidence against her, and has the requisite great evil eye."[9] Mick LaSalle continues in that Fuhrman "steals the show" and that she "injects nuance into this portrayal, as well as an arch spirit."[8] Roger Ebert determined she "is not going to be convincing as a nice child for a long, long time."[7]

Controversy[edit]

The film's content, depicting a murderous adoptee, was not well received by the adoption community.[17] The controversy caused filmmakers to change a line in one of their trailers from "It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own," to "I don’t think Mommy likes me very much."[18] Melissa Fay Greene of The Daily Beast commented:

"The movie Orphan comes directly from this unexamined place in popular culture. Esther’s shadowy past includes Eastern Europe; she appears normal and sweet, but quickly turns violent and cruel, especially toward her mother. These are clichés. This is the baggage with which we saddle abandoned, orphaned, or disabled children given a fresh start at family life."[19]

There is a pro-adoption service message on the DVD, advising viewers to consider adoption.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Result
2009 Teen Choice Awards Choice Summer Movie: Drama Nominated
2010 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film International Feature Length Competition Golden Raven Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]