Orphan (film)

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For the abandoned or neglected motion picture work, see Orphan film.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Produced by
Screenplay by David Leslie Johnson
Story by Alex Mace
Music by John Ottman
Cinematography Jeff Cutter
Edited by Timothy Alverson
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • July 24, 2009 (2009-07-24)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $76.7 million[1]

Orphan is a 2009 American psychological horror film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson. The film stars Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman. The plot centers on a couple who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a mysterious 9-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. The film was released theatrically in the United States on July 24, 2009. The film received mixed critical reviews, although Fuhrman's performance as Esther was acclaimed.[2]


Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and 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 named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) from a local orphanage. While Kate's and John's deaf daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) embraces Esther immediately, their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is less welcoming. Kate suspects that there might be problems in Esther's background when Esther's knowledge of sex extends beyond her age. Her suspicions deepen when Esther seriously injures another girl who had bullied her at school.

Kate is further alarmed when Sister Abigail (C. C. H. Pounder), the head of the orphanage, warns her that bad things happen when Esther is around. Esther overhears this and pushes Max into the path of Sister Abigail's car, forcing her to swerve off the road. Esther then kills Sister Abigail with a hammer, and forces Max to help her hide the weapon in their tree house. Kate is convinced that something is very wrong with Esther, but John does not believe her. Attempting to find out more about her, Kate finds Esther's hidden Bible and discovers that it came from the Saarne Institute in Estonia, which she eventually learns is a mental hospital. She emails 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. Esther overhears this and confronts Daniel as he searches the tree house, then sets it ablaze to kill him and destroy the evidence. Daniel falls from the tree trying to escape, and is knocked unconscious. Esther attempts to finish him off with a rock, but Max stops her. While Daniel is hospitalized, Esther slips into his room and smothers him with a pillow, stopping his heart; doctors quickly revive him. Kate, realizes what happened and 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, who finally realizes Kate was right. He tells Esther that he will send her back to the orphanage, upsetting her. Meanwhile, a groggy Kate 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; she has spent most of her life posing as a little girl and had people adopt her, with the goal of seducing the father and having a sexual relationship with him. The doctor reports that Leena is extremely violent and has murdered at least seven people. The last family, whom she was adopted by in Estonia, was killed by her because the father had rejected her sexual advances. Kate tries to get back home to stop Esther, and prevent her family from suffering the same fate. Leena flies into a rage after being spurned by John, and ransacks her room, before angrily removing her "little girl" makeup and clothes, revealing the scars from a straitjacket on her neck and wrists, weathered skin, stained teeth, and fully developed breasts.

After removing the disguise that enhanced her illusion as the youthful "Esther", Leena stabs and kills John. Max witnesses this and hides. Kate rushes home and finds John dead. Leena gets a gun from John's safe and shoots Kate in the arm, then tracks Max down into the greenhouse. Kate manages to knock Leena out, take the gun, and flee with Max. Leena regains consciousness and finds Kate and Max near a frozen pond. She lunges at Kate, knocking the gun away, and hurling them both onto the ice. Max picks up the gun and tries to shoot Leena, but hits and shatters the ice below them instead, causing Kate and Leena to drop into the water. Kate climbs partially out of the pond; Leena, reverting to her "Esther" persona, begs Kate not to let her die while hiding a knife behind her back. Kate angrily responds by saying: "I'm not your fucking mommy!" She kicks Leena in the face, breaking her neck and sending her body back into the pond. Max and Kate are met by the police moments after.



Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard were cast in main roles in late November 2007.[3][4] Principal photography for the film took place in Canada, in the cities of Toronto, Port Hope, and Montreal.[3]



Orphan had its world premiere in Westwood, California on July 21, 2009. The following day, it screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada. The film was released theatrically in North America on July 24, 2009.[5] It was then released in the UK on August 7, 2009.[5]

Home media[edit]

Orphan was released on DVD and Blu-ray on October 27, 2009 in the United States by Warner Home Video. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on November 27, 2009 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 public service announcement describing the plight of unadopted children in the U.S. and encouraging domestic adoption. A DVD of the film is visible in a scene from This Means War.


Box office[edit]

The film opened as the #4 film at the box office in its opening weekend, making a total of $12,770,000, behind G-Force, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and The Ugly Truth. The film has grossed a total of $78,337,373.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Critical reaction to Orphan has been mixed to positive, with the film earning a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus states: "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."[6] It also earned a 42 out of 100 rating on Metacritic.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Orphan 3.5 stars out of 4, writing: "You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one."[8] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle also gave a positive review, commenting: "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."[9] Todd McCarthy of Variety was less impressed, writing: "Teasingly enjoyable rubbish through the first hour, Orphan becomes genuine trash during its protracted second half."[10] 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."[11] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D+ score, noting: "Orphan isn't scary – it's garish and plodding."[12]

Overtly negative reviews ranged from "galling, distasteful trash" (Eric D. Snider)[13] to "old-fashioned and trashy horror flick" (Emanuel Levy)[14] and "relentlessly bad", albeit "entertaining" (Rob Vaux).[15] Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews wrote: "The problem with Orphan isn't merely that the film is idiotic – it's that it's also sleazy, formulaic and repellant."[16] Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club wrote: "If director Jaume Collet-Serra set out to make a parody of horror film clichés, he succeeded brilliantly."[17]

Although the film received mixed reviews, Fuhrman's performance was acclaimed and positively received; Emanuel Levy wrote that 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."[14] 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."[10] Mick LaSalle continued that Fuhrman "steals the show" and that she "injects nuance into this portrayal, as well as an arch spirit."[9] Roger Ebert determined she "is not going to be convincing as a nice child for a long, long time."[8]


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

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.


The film's content, depicting a murderous adoptee, was not well received by the adoption community.[18] 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."[19] 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."[20] There is a pro-adoption service message on the DVD, advising viewers to consider adoption.

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