The Orphan belongs to the "demonic-kid" genre of horror films, and recent antagonists such as Damien from the Omen remake, and Joshua, just cannot hold a candle to what Esther the Orphan here can do. Perhaps the more frightening aspects that this film dished out, is how they're sans supernatural elements, and contained pretty much what someone can accomplish with just a cunning mind, and a merciless heart.
Then again, full credit goes to Isabelle Fuhrman who plays Esther. She has enough creepiness in her when she glints at you with that unsmiling face, or can do an about turn when she requires some sympathy points. Fuhrman is THE reason to watch the film as she fleshes out her role with wicked perfection, the kid from hell with an angelic face. Being an ace manipulator, the horror that she dished out is on all levels, from the emotional, psychological and right down to causing physical distress as well, I cannot think of a more multi-faceted evil character that's intelligent to know how to play the cards right at every step of the way. I suppose Esther could become Fuhrman's calling card, just like how The Professional became Natalie Portman's, and would probably garner as much attention this point on.
But that's not to say that the rest of the cast didn't do their part in this Alex Mace story, directed by Spaniard Jaume Collet-Serra. Peter Sarsgaard (one of my favourite contemporary character actors) and Vera Farmiga (who spent time in the other genre film Joshua) play John and Kate Coleman, a couple who lost a child, and are looking to adopting another to add to their family of Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer, extremely cute as a button, and hearing impaired in real life). So in comes a mysterious 9 year old girl Esther (Fuhrman) into their lives, and while all may seem to be fine and dandy with Esther needing time to settle into her new household, their lives soon turn upside down, with acts of violence committed against children and adults alike, some of which will shock because of the unflinching camerawork.
Collet-Serra directed this with as much shrewdness as Esther too in a way, able to manipulate the audience along the journey. You'll be hard pressed not to cheer at appropriate times, or feel exasperated when characters refuse to heed warning signs and listen. You'll be pretty much engaged while watching the film, and kudos to the director for keeping the narrative tight and stylishly executed with wondrous cinematography set in a snow filled landscape.
However, he relied too much on the soundtrack to give the audience a heightened sense of alert and expectation that something would appear behind an open door, or a mirror, or just around the corner, which 99% of the time turned out to be nothing but red herrings. While it may be novel for a start, it soon wears on for far too longer than welcomed, and you'll soon find this trick being too tiresome that it could well be omitted from the film as it serves no purpose than to set your heartbeat racing.
Despite that, Orphan is still a top notch thriller despite its B-grade type genre that would put you at the edge of your seat as it builds a crescendo to the finale. It's been some time since I've had a positive experience with the genre, and Orphan firmly sets itself out as an instant classic, with a memorable villain. Definitely highly recommended, and probable to make it to my shortlist of the top this year.
SPOILERS BELOW, FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN BOTH MURDERER AND ORPHAN
Both Murderer and Orphan dealt with a condition of dwarfism where adults cannot seem to grow up physically, and maintain their bodies as a kid, while intellectually and emotionally they begin to mature. Both "kids" here are highly manipulative and utilized their condition to fulfill their objectives. As a film, this one is delivered more stylishly, and the anguish caused to the intended victims more real and painful. There wasn't a need to momentarily stop the narrative in its tracks and traded it for a monologue, something which Murderer had sloppily executed.