It's Halloween, a night that I have, traditionally for the past 20 years, set aside to watch the latest scary flick. This year's selection was Jaume Collet-Serra's film 'Orphan'.
All those cute little tikes were outside dressed like Princesses at the 4-H children's' beauty contest, their parents tailing them like hawks, with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths; the perfect setting to scare the pants off me as this brilliant psychological thriller unfolded before my ever widening eyeballs.
Esther, oh, Esther Esther Esther... I can't possibly reveal anything that happens in this film. This is one of the most spectacular screenplays I've watched in ages, written by David Leslie Johnson based on a story by Alex Mace. This should be a prime contender for best screenplay in 2010. It is gripping from start to finish.
It begins quietly with the beguiling Esther being adopted by an upscale couple who've had their share of tribulations with children. These are average, successful Americans we're talking about here, bringing this hair-raising story very close to home for millions of viewers who have the guts to see it. Little moments of seemingly insignificant tension and release take place but build cumulatively until, at about 80 minutes into watching it, I had to put the thing on pause so I could blink and walk around the house to see if the doors were locked against those dreadful trick-or-treating beasts and that the back light was on for the night, something I never bother with, normally.
Make no mistake, this is one bloody, ruthless film and Esther is one scary little bitch. She's cute as a spooky cat, until she begins her little tricks. I began to dread what was coming when about 40 minutes into the film Esther says f**k in such a way as to cause my hair to stand on end. We hear kids say that word all the time, trying to show off and sound tough. Not Esther. She just says it and it is like a nuclear blast to the senses.
The ending, the one used in the final cut, is harrowing, following a climactic twist in the story that is truly shocking.
The actors are excellent. Peter Sarsgaard is his usual laid-back persona and a bit one dimensional, but it suits this smug, rather weak character whose mother, Gramma, on the evidence of her personality here, is a classic monstre sacré, adding speculative dimensions to the highly charged sexual undertone of the entire film.
If Vera Farmiga doesn't win best actress for her role as his wife there is no justice or fairness in Hollywood. She is magnificent as the adoptive mother. And she is a fine pianist as well.
Her two natural children, Max, her deaf little girl, and Daniel her pre-teen son, are played with a naturalism and surety that can't be taught in any method acting class. The young actors are Aryana Enginner and Jimmy Bennett.
But even more astounding is the performance by Isabelle Fuhrman as the eponymous 'heroine' Esther. To describe the range of her performance would cause me to include a spoiler, or at least a too close to the bone hint that might ruin this film for those who haven't seen it yet.
She, too, would be a close contender to Vera Farmiga as best actress in 2010. A great great cast! The music is minimalist but perfect for this tense story. The cinematography is wholly naturalistic, the most high-tech aspect of the film being the use of black lites in Esther's bedroom. There is none of the over-used CGI or any of those tiresome tricks that are so prevalent in the junk coming out of Hollywood these days. 'Orphan' is a straight-ahead horror flick like 'Night of the Living Dead' only it has no fantasy elements in it at all. And like all great horror flicks the viewer has sympathy for the tragedy of the 'monster'. And Esther's life is a tragedy in spite of everything.
I expect the Academy of Motion Sickness Pictures will ignore this masterpiece because it probably didn't make enough money, but I predict the DVD will sell millions as the years pass and the perfection of this classic film is recognized by more and more people.
'Orphan' is definitely for adults only. There is no nudity and the 'bad' words are not really offensive in any vulgar or pornographic sense, and the bloody bits are not sickening or over-abundant, but it's far too intense for pre-teens.
I keep calling 'Orphan' a horror but it isn't. It's a very disturbing and complex psychological thriller. Hitchcock would probably have been proud to have made this film. It's almost as good as 'Psycho'. I don't think 'Orphan' is a 'B' movie at all. If it is then so is all of Hitchock's output.
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