Truth to be told I wasn’t expecting much from Orphan as most killer-child movies just suck. I don’t even like the original Omen, nor the remake. The Good Son is so bad it even has its own dedicated video-review at the Nostalgiacritic. All the Children of the Corn movies are nothing less from purely dreadful and only the little known movie Mikey from 1992, starring Brian Bonsall, was somewhat entertaining. Nothing high-end, but a simple slasher with a kid. Sure beats the whole cult-thing those Corn-movies had going on. Now a new killer kid movie has entered the scene and judging from the trailer I shouldn’t expect anything that hasn’t been done before…
Well, originality is not one of this movies strong points as this plot has been done before but rarely has it been done this good. Expecting a mediocre “slasher” Orphan grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let me go. Even with all the cliche characters running around like the father who doesn’t believe anything’s wrong with his freshly adopted child and chooses her above his wife. I could partially relate to him actually, that was when Esther just bluntly used the word “fuck”. In true American fashion mommy makes a big deal of the use of this word and dad just throws this aside and simply says “big deal”. But with all the stuff going on around him he should have noticed something more than he did.
What sets Orphan apart is the execution. Other than an unnecessary opening-scene and some false scares in the beginning, the movie excels as soon as Esther enters the scene. Her antics are truly frightening and serve for many unnerving sequences. There’s something wrong with the picture of two small children whacking a nun to death with a hammer and the dragging the body around. The movie has a gritty feel to it, something that was lacking in Mikey for instance. One of those films Orphan is basically one-on-one copy of.
Another movie that immediately sprang to mind was The Stepfather. It has the basic premise only it has dad as the killer. Like that movie Orphan’s finale also consists of basically being a slasher movie. It seems to be obligatory for these movies to at one point end with everybody finally knowing about the homicidal maniac around them who then goes to extreme lengths to kill everybody. Orphan even has those “they come back one more time” scenes in it. Luckily the acting and plot-elements that revolve around Esther make up for the unoriginality of the movie.
Part of the movie revolves around a step-by-step background check on Esther. Again something we’ve seen in all these kinds of movies. In the Stepfather it functioned as a device to get someone to save the day, here it functions as a way to explain Esther’s background, homicidal tendencies, her intelligence and to bring a twist ending to the movie. Some people will probably feel cheated but I can live with it, then again: I’ve seen Sleepaway Camp, another movie that easily gets away with a freaky twist ending.
Orphan was a surprise as it without being original is easily one of the best killer-kid movies I’ve ever seen. People will find it disturbing on several occassions but to the genre-lover these occassions are part of what makes Orphan a good horror/thriller. That and Isabelle Fuhrman is more talented in being creepy than Brian Bonsall or Macauley Culkin ever where.