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Friday, 7 January 2011

Orphan (2009)

Michael, in his comment on the post below, queried whether I would be writing about the rather super silent from director Marcel L'Herbier that we viewed recently, suggesting that it was superior to just about everything else seen over the holiday period. I do not disagree with his conclusion, but will forgo commenting until I have managed to view the whole film (if ever); unfortunately the setting ran about before the end of this longish epic -- some 175 minutes or so -- and although I could guess at the ending, I do need to see it first. The film in question is listed on IMDb as "Living Dead Man" (1926), but is a little better known under its French title, translated as "The Late Mathias Pascal". Based on a Pirandello novel and starring the eminent Russian actor Ivan Mozzhukhin, it tells of a man's 'second' life after he is believed dead. One of these days....perhaps.

Other recent viewings have been a variable batch, ranging from the well-done Sophie Marceau-starring WW2 "Female Agents" (2007) through a very strange and very long Bollywood fantasy "Krrish" (2006) to the nearly unwatchable sequel (or squeakquel as they would have it) to "Alvin and the Chipmunks". However, I have chosen to make a few comments on the above 'horror' movie, which is one that I have been meaning to see since its well-reviewed release. Generally falling into the 'evil children' sub-genre which dates back to "The Bad Seed" (1956) and which includes"The Exorcist", "The Omen", and "The Brood", as well as a long list of derivative B-movies, "Orphan" manages to be an interesting riff on this theme.

After losing their third sprog in childbirth, loving but troubled couple Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard decide to adopt an older child to join their son and hearing-impaired daughter. At the local Catholic orphanage they are strangely attracted by the reserved, talented Esther, supposedly a Russian-born tragic waif, and welcome her into their family. It is not long however before one begins to understand that something is strangely amiss, as she clobbers a bird that her new brother has accidentally shot or as she begins to insinuate herself into her new sister's life or indeed when she murders nun C.C.H Pounder, whom she sees as a threat between her and her wonderful new family. Played as a precocious 9-year old by the very able 12-year old actress Isabelle Fuhrman, the denouement does indeed hinge on the child's actual age -- but it would be too much of a spoiler to discuss this further.

With a literate script, fine acting all-round, especially from Farmiga playing the fragile and ex-alcoholic wife, who is more attuned to Esther's strangeness than the initially forgiving Sarsgaard, the film does indeed provide a series of shocks, becoming much more than a blood-soaked horror movie. The real horror here is more deep-rooted in the psychological and physiological quirks of the very scary orphan, so frighteningly portrayed by Miss Fuhrman.
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