Evil child thrillers have always had a creepy audience appeal – and this combines psychological elements from “The Bad Seed,” “The Omen,” “The Good Son” and others.
After their third child is stillborn, Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) Coleman decide to adopt. They already have an adolescent son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and a hearing-challenged daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), whose deafness is attributed to an accident that occurred as a result of Kate’s drinking problem. Nevertheless, this troubled Connecticut couple – he’s an architect, she’s a musician – is determined to expand their family.
At an orphanage run by Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), inexplicably, they choose a mysteriously prim-and-proper nine year-old Russian émigré, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who lost her previous adoptive family in a house fire from which she narrowly escaped.
Shyly singing to herself and painting a lovely picture, Esther admits, “I guess I’m different.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being different,” Kate blithely assures her.
Ah, but in this case, there is. With ribbons wrapped around her neck and wrists that can’t be removed under any circumstances, Esther is a malevolent menace, and Daniel senses her predatory wickedness from the get-go. Eventually, Kate becomes convinced that there are serious problems lurking within ghoulish Esther that she doesn’t understand so, curious about her background, Kate persistently tries to unearth the girl’s birth records but it’s not until the end that the truth is revealed.
David Leslie-Johnson’s spooky screenplay, amplified by John Ottman’s ominous musical score, is contrived and formulaic in its cheesy horror conventions, yet it’s admittedly frightening, even though the audience is inevitably two steps ahead of the gory violence. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”) elicits solid performances from veteran actors Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga (who previously played the mother of a spiteful biological child who resents his newborn sibling in “Joshua”) – with young Isabelle Fuhrman convincingly exuding evil. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Orphan” is a schlocky-but-scary 6 – with a weird plot twist that may leave you stunned.