Saturday 10 March 2012

From the archive: "Orphan"

The carefully composed chiller Orphan - an M. Night Shyamalan-does-The Omen affair from director Jaume Collet-Serra - finds married couple Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard still mourning the death of their third child during labour when they decide to adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a freckle-faced Slav with a penchant for ribbons and bows. This new recruit to the clan bonds better with her deaf young sister than with her moody older brother, yet it soon becomes clear her true goal is becoming Daddy's little princess - hence her tendency to see off rivals for his affection with lighter fluid and blunt force traumas.

The screenplay, by former Frank Darabont assistant David Johnson, provides the basis for two hours of patient, old-school horror storytelling: until the revelation of Esther's much-vaunted "secret", it's novel only in the amount of dialogue conducted through sign language, yet Collet-Serra's attention to detail is evident in everything from the muted colour palette to the choice sound design. Fuhrman gives good glower in the bad seed role, while there's typically intelligent work from Farmiga and Sarsgaard as loving, modern parents who have a complicated history behind them, and whose responses retain a veneer of credibility even as their daughter takes to braining nuns with clawhammers and comes on disturbingly strong for the final act.

(August 2009)

Orphan screens on Channel 4 tonight at 10.30pm.

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