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Blu-ray Review: Orphan

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When Orphan arrived in theaters earlier this year, I was sure it was going to be another generic "creepy kid" movie. How could I have known that it was going to be as good as it was? The movie turned out to be completely effective and rather insane. It didn't break new ground, but it took the conventions and made them work. This is a very good film that features strong writing, excellent performances, and a twist that really works. The big question going in is whether or not the thrills and twists would stand up to multiple viewings.

Well, I watched it and I have to say that it does indeed stand up to multiple viewings. If anything, I just may have liked it more this time around. The second time around allows you to focus on different things. In this case, it was the performances that really stood out to me and how they took hold of the story and took it to the next level.

We begin with John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) arriving at a hospital just as Kate is about to give birth. However, something is definitely going wrong as they wheel Kate down to the delivery room. Kate realizes it was only a nightmare when she wakes to find she is at home in bed. The couple has lost a child, and have been struggling to recover from the loss. This healing process has found them with excess love that had been reserved for the child they lost and they want to share their abundance. In order to satiate their need to give, the couple has chosen to adopt a child to join their son Danny and daughter Max, who is also almost entirely deaf.

John and Kate visit an orphanage where they immediately connect with a 9-year-old Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She is sort of an odd youngster, opting to stay away from the other kids and painting by herself in a corner. She also wears frilly dresses and ribbons around her neck and wrists. Kate tells her, "There's nothing wrong with being different." We believe her, we all know this to be true, although that is usually tougher to deal with as a child. In any case, the papers are drawn up and Esther becomes a part of the Coleman family. They have no idea what they are in for.

No sooner has Esther entered their home that strange things begin to happen. Esther is not quite the little angel that Kate thought she was. The trappings of a domestic thriller begin to take shape as Esther seemingly plays them against each other while also protecting a secret about herself. It is interesting how Esther's craziness stirs up lingering issues between John and Kate that had been laying dormant. Of course, it is also interesting how none of their problems are caused by the other yet come together in an explosive mix of violence-laden insanity.

It is the sort of movie that shouldn't really work for multiple viewings, let alone one. Alex Mace (story) and David Johnson (screenplay) really hit on something special with this one. They breathed life into a sub-genre I did not have much faith in. They have written a story that, while not perfect, is gripping, thrilling, and completely believable. It is a story that is as surprising the second time as it was the first.

That screenplay was put in the hands of Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax). These hands proved themselves to be more than capable. Has taken these words and crafted them into a stylish thriller that has kept me hooked for multiple viewings. He builds tension, shows you what you need to see and lets your mind fill in the rest.

Now, back to those performances I mentioned earlier. When I first saw the film, there was a lot to absorb. Like with any movie, you watch the story and the images and the performances, splitting your attention between everything. Watching the film a second (or more) time allows other elements to pop out a bit more than they were able to the first time around. My second viewing allowed the work of the principle cast members to really stand out.

Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are perfectly cast as the troubled couple. In particular, Vera Farmiga draws a compelling portrait of a woman struggling to keep everything together. She is cracking from the strain of losing a child and having been responsible for her daughter's deafness. Combine that with the fact that no one wants to believe anything she says and she has to fight an uphill battle throughout the film. Then you have Peter Sarsgaard. His character is not exactly squeaky clean, but his attempts to keep a level head throughout the growing ordeal cause him to discount much of his wife's suspicions. Everything quite believable.

As good as those two are, the real winner here is Isabelle Fuhrman. She plays Esther to absolute perfection. Alternately sweet, creepy, evil, and downright menacing. I believed her. When she made threats against Max (Aryanna Engineer) I believed her. She really is remarkable in how she makes Esther into this monster. It will be interesting to see how her career progresses.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looks really good. The blacks are solid and the under-saturated colors have plenty of detail. It is a dark film and the transfer accurately reflects what I remember from the theater. It may actually look better here. There is no evidence of any digital noise or artifacts. Very good looking disk.

The audio is also quite strong. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track does the film justice. The surrounds are not all that active, but the score shines through and the dialogue is always crisp and clear. Listen as the sound occasionally gives way to silence as you build up to a musical sting, all adding to the tension that comes with the story.

Extras. This release is a little light in this area.

  • Bad Seeds and Evil Kids. This brief featurette takes a look at the films antagonist as well as evil kids throughout cinematic history. It does not get into this film terribly deeply, but it is an interesting watch.
  • Deleted Scenes. A few minutes of cut bits and an alternate ending. The alternate ending is not all that special and I am really glad they chose not to use it. Although, I must say that I have an idea of an addition that would have made the used ending a bit better.

Bottom line. This is a very good movie that is very much worth your time. Sure, you could nit pick it to near death, but I was won over by what is there on the screen. It surprised me, it scared me, it convinced me it was real. This is a great surprise.

Highly Recommended.

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