- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

“Orphan” is the latest in a long line of movies in which precocious children commit acts of remarkable evil while half the people in the film think nothing is wrong. “The Omen” probably remains the best-loved of these flicks; more recent iterations include “The Ring” and “Joshua.”

However, the film “Orphan” most resembles is “The Good Son,” the Macaulay Culkin picture that took a look at the dangers of allowing a sociopath with an angel’s smile into one’s life.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) are still coping with the stillbirth of their third child; they want to adopt a child to fill the gap the baby’s death created in their life. Into that void steps Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a 9-year-old girl of Russian descent the couple finds at the local orphanage.

Everything seems fine at first — Esther gets along well with the couple’s deaf daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), though their son, Dan (Jimmy Bennett) is a little standoffish, none too pleased to have this new, weird addition to the family complicating his life at school and at home. But the tell-tale signs of trouble are there: Esther pushes a girl who was mean to her off of a slide; Esther crushes a wounded dove with a rock; Esther caves in a nun’s head with a hammer.

Yup, she’s a sociopath all right.

In movies like this, you typically find one character who sees the truth and struggles against everyone’s rejection of his or her labeling of the child in question as a psycho-killer. “Orphan,” of course, has that character — the mother, Kate, played with just the perfect mix of frustration, despair and anger by Miss Farminga. Though her husband thinks she’s imagining things, the children have been cowed by Esther in varying ways into either doing her bidding or keeping silent out of fear. Half of the fun is seeing how far Esther can push before anyone pushes back. In this way, “Orphan” is as much a high-tension, frightening thriller as it is a straight-up horror flick.

At least it is until it devolves into outright silliness in the final act. “Orphan” manages the rare feat of having a finale you can see coming if you pay close enough attention but that can flabbergast you by its outrageous foolishness at the same time.

Though a little long at a hair more than two hours, “Orphan” is rarely boring, aided by performances that keep your attention. Mr. Sarsgaard brings his typical world-weary, slightly smirky visage to the proceedings, while CCH Pounder is delightful in an all-too-brief appearance as one of the nuns.

★★½

TITLE: “Orphan”

RATING: R (disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by David Johnson and Alex Mace

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

WEB SITE: https://orphan-movie.warnerbros.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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