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Thursday, July 30, 2009 01:57 am

Orphan: An adoption agency’s worst nightmare

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Remember this name — Isabelle Fuhrman. As the evil child Esther in the domestic horror film Orphan, this young actress delivers a performance that’s seemingly beyond her years. Sporting a trace of a Russian accent, a chilling adult demeanor and the ability to convey complex emotions with a single glance, this American actress, who was 11 when the film was made, dominates the screen whenever she appears.

Grieving over the stillbirth of their third child, John and Kate Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) decide to adopt an older child to help them heal. They’re immediately taken by Esther, whose artistic sensibilities and maturity make her seem a perfect fit for their family. Had they known she probably set the fire that killed her previous family, they might have thought twice.

Once they bring Esther home, things start to go haywire in unexpected ways as she exploits the Colemans’ weaknesses, plays them against one another and even tries to kill her new brother and a bully at school. The tagline for the film points out that, “There’s Something Wrong with Esther,” and they ain’t kidding! Suffocating a child or trapping one in a burning building is just in a day’s work for her.

The explanation for Esther’s psychosis comes out of left field. While it’s unlikely the set of circumstances on display here could ever occur, it all works within the film’s twisted logic. Effectively creepy, sporting good performances and most of all fun in a horror flick way, Orphan delivers some very real scares without having to resort to special effects. It makes me question the wisdom of adopting even the smallest of pets.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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