Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and IsabelleFuhrman in
BE AMUSED, BE VERY AMUSED
by Kevin Bowen
published July 24, 2009
now playing nationwide
I laughed all the way through the evil child thriller Orphan. Was that a good laugh? Was that a bad laugh? I don’t know. I never figured it out. All I can report
is that I was laughing.
When the little dark haired homicidal maniac forces a nun’s car off the
road and kills her with a hammer? That’s depraved! When she asks her curly-haired kid sister to help her hide the body? Am I chuckling to
myself? When she takes off her bloody baby blue mittens and places them in a Hello Kitty backpack to stash in a treehouse? Oh, try stopping me
from cracking up.
That’s the natural cycle of Orphan, tilting between routine horror flick non-shocks and out-there family satire. It is like an inverted
and warped version of the Disney movie where the orphan finds a place in a loving home, this time with an eerie little psychopathic girl
showing off a murderous Electra Complex. It depicts a hidden, violent childhood taking place under the nose of parents comically wedded to
their family values kitsch. If Orphan were not so dependent on cheap scares and a chipping
undercoat of character stupidity, it might have achieved the status of a cunning clandestine family satire.
Orphan has the type of slightly
clever but ultimately limited premise that attracts actors whose careers aren’t quite living up to their ability. Peter Sarsgaard once
seemed on the brink of supporting role stardom. Heck, he once hosted Saturday Night Live.
Nowadays, I’m just happy to see him. Then I cringe at what he’s in. When Vera Farmiga isn’t collecting critics group awards, she’s usually
starring in something beneath her talent.
In previous movies, Farmiga has had a history of problems with children,
Russians and perverts. Here, she has all three rolled into one. After experiencing a stillbirth, she and her husband plan to adopt a child
from an orphanage. There, in a little room, they meet an artistic, over-articulate Russian girl dressed mainly in black (Isabelle Fuhrman).
How do you know when not to adopt a mysterious Russian girl? Here’s a primer:
1. You meet a 9-year-old
Russian girl who seems wise beyond her years.
2. You meet her sitting all
alone in a room singing eerie Russian songs.
3. There’s a crucifix hanging
in the background at a perfect camera angle.
4. When you ask where she
learned all those songs, she answers, “My dog taught them to me.”
OK, OK, OK, that last line isn’t actually in there. But it might as well
be. So when people start turning up maimed, why does it take so long for the parents to put two and two together? Perhaps they don’t watch
enough horror movies.
There is no way for Orphan to
end in accordance with its best features. You can’t finish this type of film off with comedy. So you have to finish it with cheap, dumb, lousy
would-be terror. It’s an ending that betrays the best and darkest spirit of the film. Such a shame.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com