Thursday, September 9, 2010

Similarly Titled Films: Orphan and The Orphanage

Out of ideas for a creepy horror movie? Usually, all you have to do is add a creepy little kid and you're set. And there's no shortage of creepy kids in both of the above mentioned films, Orphan and The Orphanage. Thematically and stylistically, the films couldn't be more different - one is a thriller and the other is a ghost story - but both films are fantastic.

"I totally figured out Esther's secret before it was revealed."

Bullcheese. Anybody who says that is lying like a lawyer. If you really and truly did figure it out, kudos to you. But you missed out on all the fun of watching the film for the first time. I never figured out Esther's secret, and I think the filmmakers were banking on no one else knowing it either. Perhaps they watch more episodes of DiscoveryHealth than the rest of us. The fun of the movie is based entirely on wondering what the crap is up with this freakishly knowledgeable 9-year-old. Is she a Damien-like evil? A Good Son-like evil? Is she a witch? Is it supernatural at all?

In Orphan, Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga have just lost their third baby and decide to fill the void by adopting. On Meet-an-Orphan Day, they come across Esther, the shy one who stays away from everybody. "I guess I'm just different." Yes, well, that's one way of putting it. Weird accidents happen when Esther's around and she develops a fascination with Peter Sarsgaard (who wouldn't??!!) whilst driving Vera Farmiga crazy. Esther is even evil enough to make the little deaf girl her cohort in crime, but what is her ultimate goal? Who is Esther, really? And what the fuck is her secret??

The film is executed extremely well, more so than I expected. I thought it was going to be another run-of-the-mill thriller with nothing really special going on. I was wrong. A brutal murder, a burning tree house, a freak-out in the bathroom, a little girl that was waaaay too manipulative to be real all come together in a unique and chilling way. The addition of the little deaf girl, Max, was an interesting choice, but helped in making Esther appear more sinister. Max's brother, Daniel, obviously loves his sister even though he doesn't know sign language all that well. Esther either already knew it or picks up on quickly because she uses it to pull helpless Max away from the rest of her family and keep Esther's secrets (but not her BIG secret).

The parents have their usual relationship problems, which Esther also exploits. The mother, Kate, is an alcoholic and has made mistakes with the children in the past. When Esther starts causing trouble, the father, John, has a hard time believing Kate and makes more rifts in their relationship. Why is it always the mother who knows the truth in these movies? Why is the father always so quick to disbelieve his wife? I've never seen a movie where it was the other way around. Anyway, it makes for good drama and moves the story along as Kate tries to delve into Esther's past and find out just what kind of monster they've brought into their home.

Creepy smart kids always seem to know how to play piano.
You can't talk about this movie without mentioning the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. She is wonderful, and I have yet to read anything that says otherwise. Her accent sounds a little funny, but she did the best she could. Her acting and facial expressions, however, are top notch and she truly acts more like an adult than a child. The other child actors were very impressive and worked well together in their scenes. I love me some Peter Sarsgaard and he does not disappoint as the father who makes all the wrong decisions and has himself and his family pay dearly for it. I'd never seen Vera Farmiga (at least, not that I recall) before Orphan and again, I was impressed. She carries the film well and I wouldn't mind seeing more of her as an actress.

Call it ludicrous or not scary enough, but I think Orphan is one good little thriller. I was genuinely shocked at some of the final actions (SPOILERS), like Daniel becoming seriously hurt in the tree house fire and Peter Sarsgaard getting his ass kicked by Esther (and dying!! I never thought she would actually kill him; that was a true surprise). The final fight scene is done pretty well, with an ironic death for Esther. Ironic, that is, for Kate, seeing as how she almost lost Max the same way once before.

I say two thumbs up. Enjoy the ride of this latest installment to the Killer/Evil Kid canon. It's not perfect, but not horrible either. A well done thriller with some great actions and twists.

Without a doubt, the more superior film is The Orphanage, a superb Spanish ghost story from producer Guillermo Del Toro. A fellow horror fan on another website recommended this fantastic flick to me and I am forever grateful to him, because I absolutely fell in love with The Orphanage from the very first frame.

Laura is moving her husband, Carlos, and adopted child, Simon, back into the orphanage she grew up in to make a home for handicapped children. Simon is an imaginative child whose has a penchant for creating imaginary friends. Soon he claims to have made five more friends in the house who like to play games with him. Simon goes missing on the day the handicapped children arrive for a party, and after months of no clues to his disappearance, Laura starts having supernatural experiences of her own, ignited even more by a visit from spiritual medium. And in order to find her son, she must play along and solve the mystery of the orphanage.

The Orphanage has so many amazing things going for it that I don't even know where to start. The atmosphere, the acting, the setting, the way all the clues and homages come together all just blow my mind. It's a ghost story and a mystery. It's scary and emotionally heart-wrenching. It's a spectacularly metaphorical tale of love and loss, but also of hope and dreams. The film is more like a fairy tale at times, making references to many kids' stories like Hansel and Gretel and Peter Pan. The most tension-filled and well-directed part of the film comes when Laura plays a game similar to Red Light, Green Light with the ghost children of her past.

Ghost Hunters International: We're ready to believe you!
Can I talk about this scene for a minute? And how it creeped me the fuck out? Okay. The first scene of the movie is of Laura as a little girl at the orphanage playing this game with the other children. When Laura must contact the children again as ghosts to find out where Simon is, she brings them out by playing the game in the house. Her back is turned to the rest of the room as she knocks on the wall the first time. The camera does not cut, but rather pans with Laura's turning of her head each time she repeats the phrase. Of course, you're expecting to see some creepy ghost children turn up and hoo doggy, do they turn up. This was the best scene of the movie and at first I thought it would have been creepy if we hear little kid's feet running or something, but I was wrong. There is almost no sound in this scene, therefore you don't know where the kids will be the next time she turns around or how close they will be to her, making it far more creepy and tense. A+ on this scene! I love it.

Anyway, like I was saying before, I pretty much love everything about this movie. It's a little long, and more drawn out in getting to its conclusion, but hopefully you stick around because it has one of the best and most heart-breaking conclusions of any film I've seen. Leading up to it is a compelling double-mystery around the orphanage, a woman who used to work there, and her son, whom Laura saw the day her own son disappeared and who she believes is responsible for what happened to him. Laura never gives up on solving the mystery either of her friends who died tragically after she left the orphanage, or her son. But it has been so many months, how is it possible that Laura will find Simon alive?

There is only the slightest touch of gore in The Orphanage, and it is a most memorable one. The strange woman who comes to visit Laura, Benigna, meets a most disgusting demise, that is grotesque in its imagery and also a huge loss for our heroine - as Benigna, was perhaps the one person who could tell Laura happened to her son. 

The cinematography is beautiful, with a greyish-blue tone throughout the film, similar to the uniforms worn by the orphans. Sound design is phenomenal and crucial to the success of some scenes. Sound always seems to be wickedly important in ghost films, but knowing how and when to use sound for the greatest effect is pretty much an art in and of itself. The progression of the story is quite impressive. Everything is set up in the beginning and some scenes and lines practically give the ending away, which makes the film perfect for a second or 274th viewing; not only because the movie rocks, but because you can pick up on the clues and gain more of an appreciation for the story. 

I need more than two thumbs to rate this movie. It is simply one of the best supernatural thriller-mystery dramas I have and will ever see. 


  1. I couldn't agree more: both movies are absolutely stunning.

  2. I love both of these films for different reasons. ORPHAN is just a fun throwback to "evil children" genre. And there's no way anyone could have gotten that twist ending before watching it, unless they heard it from someone else. I thought it was quite clever. And the performances are fantastic here. A definite highlight for 2009 horror.

    And THE ORPHANAGE is just fantastic. I love the mood, atmosphere, and the mystery. Just a creepy film that I feel is very underrated.

    Great reviews!

  3. The Orphanage is one of my favorite films of recent memory, great write up!

  4. Skipped ORPHAN; THE ORPHANAGE had a couple intense moments but ultimately I was kinda underwhelmed by the overall payoff.

  5. I loved the Orphan so much I actually clapped during the movie which I never do cause I think clapping in movies is lame.

    The Orphanage is a beautiful ghost story that I enjoyed very much. Great review!

  6. jervaise brooke hamsterSeptember 10, 2010 at 5:25 AM

    I actually saw "THE ORPHANAGE" on a pirate DVD that didn`t have any subtitles on it (and i cant speak a word of Spanish) and i was still completely entranced and captivated by it which proves what a brilliant film it is.

  7. I've been meaning to see both....
    Great descriptions. Each film is now in my queue.

  8. I was expecting more hate for Orphan... another one of those divisive movies.

    Andrew, def see The Orphanage! I hope you like it.

  9. I was deaf too I'm girl. I'm teen age:)