Screenwriters: David Leslie Johnson, Alex Mace
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer
Running time: 123 mins
"You'll never guess her secret", the tagline on some promotional posters for Orphan proudly claims. Like the polite request from the movie's PR before the screening not to divulge that mystery (we won't), it's a line that'll have you giggling into your popcorn not long into the film. James Cameron may as well have pimped Titanic by suggesting that none of us could possibly imagine what would happen to that big ship. Still, a good film can survive a bit of predictability, and the twisting horror classics Psycho and Friday The 13th even stand up to countless rewatching. Unfortunately, one thing that Orphan most definitely is not is a good film.
It's not only the heavily-signposted "secret" that's obvious, but every single scene, as square pegs fit joylessly into square holes for the full running time. The picture starts with its only genuinely eerie moment, a standard horror dream sequence in which recovering alcoholic Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) relives a terrifying alternate experience of her recent miscarriage. She and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) adopt a precocious 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) soon after, but her ability to fit in at school and with their two existing children Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer) is swiftly compromised by her hammer-wielding Wednesday Addams shtick.
It probably won't surprise to you learn that director Jaume Collet-Serra helmed the fun-but-pointless 2005 House Of Wax remake. Like that film and the spate of '70s horror reboots that have been released over the past few years, Orphan is little more than an exercise in slavish cribbing from the horror standards. While there's nothing wrong with being inspired by the past, the whole project is put together with such little flair that it really would be better for you to save your pennies and shell out instead on any number of old-school terror flicks which still have more about them then this third-rate facsimile.
The performances across the board are strong, with Engineer's turn as a deaf toddler the most impressive, but the acting is wasted on a script so hoary that you can't quite believe how little it deviates from your expectations. Moreover, the violent set pieces aren't nearly subtle enough to chill or gory enough to entertain, and while the second half gropes at some interesting ideas about the supposed innocence of childhood and the dynamics of family relationships, it only does so awkwardly and with the ideas submerged in silliness.
There's been some controversy about the film and its title from adoption groups, but the real scandal is how the movie saps all the scares out of such a classic horror premise. A good slasher flick is adept at mixing up intentional laughs with the fear, but aside from some entertaining sweary dialogue between Farmiga and Sarsgaard, it's only the act of ticking off boxes on the cliché checklist that will raise a smirk. As the movie segues from The Omen to Single White Female towards the end, there's an unmistakable sound of tittering across the cinema.