Tag Archives: Vera Farmiga

Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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Joshua (2007)

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Holy crap. The kids aren’t all right. The kids aren’t all right at all. And nine-year-old Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan) is such a malicious, evil little prick who commits atrocities with such a sense of glee (as gleeful as Joshua’s studiousness and seriousness will allow) that you will not feel anything but hate and loathing for the malignant little tyke by the end. But hey, this movie is pretty good, and for fans of evil-child movies, it’s that much better because “Joshua” maintains a relative sense of realism throughout.

Poor Brad (Sam Rockwell.) No sooner is little newborn Lily out of the hospital than Brad’s wife Abby (Vera Farmiga) starts to mentally deteriorate big-time (Post-partum depression’s a bitch) and child prodigy Joshua starts to act a little… well, homicidal. The family dog, Joshua’s pet hamster, and the class pets at Joshua’s elite private school (an institution that attracts snobs like a cadaver attracts flies) start to meet with fatal accidents, and Brad begins to suspect the worst when the family unite swiftly disintegrates. But could all the mayhem really be being orchestrated by Joshua?

Sam Rockwell is becoming one of my favorite character actors, bringing likability to Joshua’s very flawed dad. Vera Farmiga is a top-notch actress too, but sympathy is in short supply for this shrieking, hysterical woman (I know the horrors of mental illness all too well, but Abby’s out to lunch.) a Netflix user described Kogan’s portrayal of Joshua, the homicidal maniac, as ‘stiff,’ but I actually thought he did a pretty damned good job switching his behavior between that of a wide-eyed schoolboy and a malicious nutcase. This is nothing. Wait until the cretin hits puberty, starts growing hair in strange places. Your problems are going to triple overnight.

As a self-proclaimed fan of every cinematic psychological curiosity under the sun, “Joshua” offered more that enough bizarre insights into human nature. I like how Joshua sets his parents against each other. I love the dynamic of the struggle of power between father and son. Brad’s main concerns are sexual frustration and keeping his family unit from falling to bits. Joshua’s motivations are a little more mysterious. Is destroying his parents his ultimate endgame? Or does he have an even more sinister agenda in mind?

This is the rare movie I wouldn’t mind a sequel to (however,considering the limited release and the child actor’s age progression, the chances are next to nil.) With all the Hollywood hits that get upteen million sequels, here’s sleeper hat feels like it might actually benefit from a sequel and has a nada chance of getting one. Does that seem right? No, not at all, but that’s how the movie industry works. Better get used to it, kid.

“Joshua” achieves it’s goal of being creepy and unnerving, and not just from the initial shock of a small child doing horrible things. There’s definitely a sense of unease at watching the terrible things that happen to the these poor people (except the nine-year-old, may his snotty ass burn in Hell.) It’s a set of disasters that can befall anyone, if a real life Joshua is thrown into the mess, devoid of supernatural or demonic factors. This kind of storytelling is potent and used to good effect here, without the usual crap clichés or plot devices.

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