25 July 2009 | Craig_McPherson
One word - Impressive
Every once in a while a film seems destined to slip under the radar either by poor promotion or a trailer that makes the viewer go "meh". Orphan is one of those flicks that, while benefiting from a decent studio push, simply didn't impart any compelling reason to check it out based on the trailer, which is too bad because this is actually one tight little thriller.
Directed by Spain's Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax), it tells the story of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a 9-year old Russian orphan who is adopted by Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) , a decision motivated in part by the stillborn birth of their third child.
An oddball from the start, Esther at first charms the Colemans with her personality, artistic flair, and independence, however it's apparent that there's more going on with Esther than meets the eye. She quickly forms a bond with Max (Aryana Engineer), the couple's deaf daughter, by learning sign language, but is resented by their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) who views her with contempt. All of which forms a basis for familial tension, further compounded by the skeletons of Kate's history of alcoholism and John's past infidelity.
Telling a surprisingly layered story that strays into uncomfortable territory given how it deals with children in peril, the shiniest gem in this entertaining nugget is that of Isabelle Fuhrman, upon whose performance the movie succeeds or fails. While acting is uniformly top notch throughout, Fuhrman spectacularly establishes herself as one of the most remarkable young talents currently working in cinema, and that's a statement not to be taken lightly. This 12-year-old, who had only one prior film credit on her resume, simply blazes her way across the screen in a performance that ranges from sweet to seductive to psychotic. This is her movie and she makes the most of it, and if she doesn't mature into one of Hollywood's premier stars, I'll be most surprised.
Orphan won't win any awards (despite Fuhrman's impressive performance) and might well get passed over by many based on the trailer, all of which is too bad because this is one stray that movie audiences would do well to adopt.