The movie The Orphan made me want to be a better person. Someone who never makes mistakes, is trustworthy, good with children, and exudes confidence and high moral standing. Why would I think that from seeing a horror/thriller/suspense movie? Because it would have made the mother’s life so much easier.
The reason that The Orphan works as a suspense/thriller is for the same reason that I like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, or many other great movies–no one believes the afflicted person and even unwittingly either places the afflicted in even more peril or sets them up to take the fall for all the real villain has done. And the people who don’t believe are always proved wrong in the most resounding ways.
This is the case with The Orphan. The basic introductory plot goes like this. A woman is trying to get over delivering a stillborn baby. She is in counseling for this, as well as the subsequent alcohol addiction that has previously endangered her two living children. She is on the mend, but still feels she needs to fill some sort of void with another child. At this point, like me, you may wonder why in the world she felt she needed another child. She had her boy and girl, but, let’s give her the altruistic benefit of the doubt. Her husband doesn’t seem entirely enthused with the idea of adopting, especially this soon, but he seems to go along with it simply to get closer to his wife again. They go to the orphanage and end up picking out the perfect little foreign older girl child, who happens to be the devil incarnate! No, she isn’t. I haven’t ruined the ending for you, as someone did for me. But of course, as the movie tagline goes “There’s something wrong with Esther.” Only, the only person that seems to see it is the recovering alcoholic/slightly emotionally unhinged mother. And the deaf daughter, but she’s willing to overlook Esther’s flaws in favor of having a big sister interested in learning sign language enough to speak to her and who is willing to play with her.
The Orphan also works for another reason besides the gut wrenching frustration both the mother and the audience has when no one will believe that Esther is the one behind all of these horrible deeds they see as “misunderstandings.” It works because everyone’s emotions and motivations are clear aside from those of Esther. The son is afraid of being pushed aside in the battle for his parent’s attention by this new child, seemingly even more needy than his deaf little sister. Max, said little sister, desperately wants the sister she expected to have (the stillborn baby, Jessica). The father wants the intimate connection he and his wife shared to be renewed. The mother just wants to feel whole again, to “give all the love we had for Jessica to someone else.” Everyone is invested in Esther being as wonderful as she seems because if she is wonderful and is that missing link, the family can get back to some semblance of normalcy; it is all the more frustrating for them, then, that the person deemed not normal and not connected should be the one to reject the very person who can knit them all back together.
The twist of what’s really wrong with Esther is surprising, and mostly well done, although there was a moment when I thought the secret was even more shocking than it was (that’s all I can say without giving anything away). I sure feel bad for older girls hoping to be adopted, though; Esther ruined it for you. Sorry 🙁
The Orphan: *** 1/2 of four stars; A-