Friday, July 24, 2009

Don't abandon this scary 'Orphan'

Three Stars

By Gary Buiso

The pitfalls of adopting a psychotic child are thrown into stark relief in “Orphan,” a bad seed thriller with a twist.

The film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”), benefits from a clever script and fine performances, building tension to a bloody, weird crescendo.

The film follows a predictable first act: John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga) haven’t fully healed from the death of an unborn child, but decide nonetheless that the time is right to adopt. The two, who live in a remote, Frank Lloyd Wright-esque home, head to the local orphanage and take a shine to Russian-born Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), an adorable wunderkind, bright and talented beyond her years.

The pair’s two biological children are wary, but the parents are determined to make the family work. Recovering alcoholic Kate begins to sniff something is amiss, but no one believes her. Even her shrink is incredulous: “Maybe it’s your feelings of inadequacy as a mother,” the good doctor offers. For this I pay you $300 an hour?

Hubby, a recovering philanderer, is gleefully unaware — even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Flattened pigeons and dead nuns be damned. But Dad’s cognitive dissonance is part of the movie’s winning charm.

As a woman on the brink, Farmiga delivers another layered performance, even better than a similar role as the angst-ridden mother in 2007’s “Joshua,” another evil child yarn. Fuhrman, who was 11 when “Orphan” was filmed, rises to the challenge, and is equally convincing and chilling.

Like its title character, “Orphan” is smart and sadistic.

Orphan. Rated R for graphic violence, sexuality, strong language and adult subject matter. Running time: 123 minutes. With Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, and Aryana Engineer.


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