(2009) ** R
123 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett.


Sometimes it's hard to call whether a movie is just bad or rather a special brand of "gonzo" camp, so bizarre and eccentric that it transcends to a level of must-see movies. Orphan—produced by Joel Silver and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra—comes close to the pantheon of so-bad-they're-good horror movies, but as they say, no cigar. So much of Orphan plays the same old "evil kid" beats as The Omen, The Bad Seed, The Good Son, and so forth that when the film announces it's about another kettle of fish entirely, it's a bit too little, too late.

Vera Farmiga (The Departed) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) play Kate and John Coleman, traumatized marrieds who decide to fill a void by adopting little orphan Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Socially ostracized—seemingly for her precocious intelligence—Esther is like a bird with a broken wing, just the creature to capture the imagination of an adopter in maternal overdrive. John is on board, too, but Esther drives a wedge between the couple when Esther begins acting out, at first in ways that John is inclined to dismiss or excuse. Esther finds herself at the center of school and playground incidents, and she antagonizes her adoptive siblings: Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer). It's no surprise to the audience when Esther starts offing animals and people in scenes straight out of the demon-child playbook. Okay, she's not a demon child—screenwriter David Leslie Johnson's idea for Esther's origin story is far more twisted than that. The buy-in, or not, at that climactic moment of revelation will either make the eye-rollers go cross-eyed from exertion or suddenly have them cheering the filmmakers on for sheer audacity.

Though Farmiga probably didn't make the wisest career choice to take on Orphan so soon after 2007's evil-kid movie Joshua, she and Sarsgaard turn in credible performances that help to make Orphan's case. Collet-Serra does some impressive work in two areas: the creep-out scenes involving Fuhrmann using language and attitudes inappropriate for her years (especially a sexual come-on to her new daddy) and the horror-tinged action sequences, including the climax. Though Orphan is unmistakeably garbage, see if you're not gripping your armrest just a little thanks to Collet-Serra's taut direction and Tim Alverson's effective editing. Orphan just may linger as a camp cult movie to go alongside ones like The Bad Seed, but one hopes next time Collet-Serra will just shoot for "good."

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 10/27/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Whatever one thinks of the movie, Warner's high-def Blu-ray presentation of Orphan—just in time for Halloween—is impeccable. The picture quality is outstanding, preserving the deep color tones and wintry snap the film exhibited in theaters. Contrast and black level are strong, and detail and texture are fantastic; distracting digital artifacts are nowhere to be found. A lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix ensures that none of the subtleties of the mix heard in theaters are lost in your home theater; those patented horror-movie "jumps" are calibrated just right.

What bonus features are here are good; they're just limited in scope. That said, "Mama's Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Kids" (14:56, HD) does a nice job of putting Orphan into a context of films like The Omen, The Bad Seed, The Good Son, Rosemary's Baby, Children of the Damned, and The Exorcist, as well as explaining the psychology behind such horror flicks. Participants include director Jaume Collet-Serra, producer Joel Silver, writer David Johnson, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, executive producer Don Carmody, producer Susan Downey, horror historian and archivist David Delvalle, Steve "Uncle Creepy" Barton of Dreadcentral.com, Brad Miska of BloodyDisgusting.com, psychotherapist Dr. Michael Levittan, and clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen A. Diamond, PhD.

Secondly, the disc includes "Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending" (4:04, SD), comprising four deleted scenes and the alternate ending, presented in standard definition.

The disc is BD-Live-enabled and includes a Digital Copy.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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