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Orphan DVD Review

Orphan (2009) movie poster Orphan

Theatrical Release: July 24, 2009 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra / Writers: David Johnson (screenplay), Alex Mace (story)

Cast: Vera Farmiga (Kate Coleman), Peter Sarsgaard (John Coleman), Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther), CCH Pounder (Sister Abigail), Jimmy Bennett (Daniel Coleman), Margo Martindale (Dr. Browning), Karel Roden (Dr. Vไrava), Aryana Engineer (Max Coleman), Rosemary Dunsmore (Grandma Barbara), Jamie Young (Brenda), Lorry Ayers (Joyce), Brendan Wall (Detective), Genelle Williams (Sister Judith)

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Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) have a son and a daughter. The boy, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), has some behavioral problems and the girl, Max (Aryana Engineer), is deaf. But neither poses as much of a challenge for the wealthy Connecticut family as their attempt to have a third child.
A stillbirth has helped thrust Kate into a drinking problem. When we meet her, she believes she's gotten over this, so she and John are ready to adopt.

At the Catholic orphanage they observe, one child immediately catches their eyes: artistic, polite Russian girl Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Although there are a few concerns (her hazy past includes a traumatic, deadly house fire and the present finds her struggling socially), the Colemans welcome 9-year-old Esther into their family and home. If you know that Orphan is a psychological thriller, then you know that this is when things start to go wrong.

A nasty classmate is seriously injured at school. Esther's former caretaker (CCH Pounder) goes missing. And disconcerting facts and inconsistencies in records cast suspicion on the newest member of the Coleman family. At least, they do for her adoptive mother and the viewers that sympathize with her. Everyone else, from Dad to the family shrink (Margo Martindale) see no malice in Esther. Even worse than the near-unanimous acceptance is that it comes with skepticism aimed at Kate and her previous and potential maternal failings.

Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) delights in a look around her new room, while her new family watches on from the doorway. Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) don't see eye-to-eye on their adopted daughter.

So many of today's horror films fit neatly into a niche. There are the brutally violent films that boast about their battles to secure an R rating before the unrated DVD renders them irrelevant. There are the slasher flicks whose only questions "Who dies?" and "How?" are always answered "Almost everyone" and "under a variety of circumstances." Then there are the PG-13 movies that place audience inclusivity above genre expectations. If critics and moviegoers are to be trusted, then recent horror movies Zombieland and Paranormal Activity have succeeded by staying away from those classes. While I can't yet vouch for them, I can definitely declare that Orphan pulls off such a feat.

First-time writers David Johnson and Alex Mace can't be credited with utter originality. The keywords "evil child" bring up 65 movies and TV series on the Internet Movie Database including such famous works as The Exorcist, The Omen, The Bad Seed, both versions of Village of the Damned, and Macaulay Culkin's The Good Son. Alas, there is a refreshing lack of d้jเ vu to Orphan at a time when most of its genre is some combination of a sequel, a remake, or a reboot.

Orphan largely eschews goriness in favor of bona fide chills and thrills. Nearly every one of its jump-in-your-seat moments is a fake-out and even that doesn't strike one as the tacky design it could have. The film builds momentum as it progresses, its mystery thickening as poignant mayhem ensues with layers of believability and not the contrivances and holes often seen. Although there are some horrific moments certain to produce pained reactions, there is never the air of gratuitousness that pervades envelope-pushing shock cinema.

Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) defends her decision to wear a Victorian dress on her first day at a new school. Esther becomes a close and questionable influence on the Colemans' hearing-impaired young daughter Max (Aryana Engineer).

The steady direction from Spain's Jaume Collet-Serra (2005's House of Wax, Goal II: Living the Dream) keeps the film absorbing and engaging. The performances help a great deal too. As the parents, Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard prove they're not sacrificing their growing credibility for run-of-the-mill horror movie paychecks. As the suspected monster Esther, Isabelle Fuhrman is exceptional at treading a line so that her character can be read in different ways.
One can only hope that this performance leads to more good things for her so that she's not peaking at age 11. Her young co-stars Aryana Engineer and Jimmy Bennett also do well, supplying emotional honesty well beyond their few years.

Doling out twists and developments in a sensible fashion, Orphan marches ahead to a satisfying conclusion that holds up to most scrutiny. It never underestimates its audience's intelligence or abandons its winning tone for visceral impact. Lesser films of the genre and really any movie claiming to carry that attractive "thriller" label would be wise to aspire to such success.

Met with mixed reviews and the mildest of dumb controversy over a purported anti-adoption message, Orphan grossed over $41 million domestically. A moderate performer by overall box office standards, the film still landed at the high end of production company Dark Castle's output. Just three months after opening in theaters, Orphan comes to DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, in time for Halloween viewings.

Buy Orphan on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
Release Date: October 27, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98 (Reduced from $28.98
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc
Blockbuster Total Access - 2 Week Free Trial


For a long time now, new movies have looked pretty darn great when they come to DVD. There have been a few exceptions in recent years, and Warner seems to have been behind as many of them as any major studio. Unfortunately, Orphan is one such exception. Its 16:9 widescreen transfer looks overly compressed, with edge ringing, grain, and mosquito noise rendering certain scenes near unwatchable. The only version of the two-hour nearly fills a dual-layered disc to capacity, so it's not clear why it's so troubled. Some have speculated that sloppy DVD transfers are a way to exaggerate the advantages of Blu-ray. It's tough to come up with any better reason to explain why Orphan looks as it does.

The movie's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is less of a disappointment. Although we don't get the most active of aural experiences, what's here is clear and consistent.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) sees neighbor Joyce (Lorry Ayers) at the grocery store checkout line, an encounter Esther uses for manipulation. The scored main menu supplies an up-close look at Esther's poster and cover pose.


Orphan comes with just one 4-minute bonus listing, part of which Warner feels strongly enough about to permanently advertise on the cover. The highly-billed alternate ending
(which would benefit from an explanation you'll instead have to surmise yourself) is preceded by four short deleted scenes. They depict a funny family moment and some notable exchanges otherwise merely hinted at.

Although Orphan isn't void of bonus features as many recent new Warner movies' DVDs have been, most supplements are still made exclusive to the Blu-ray release. The featurette "Mama's Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Children", a digital copy, and unspecified BD-Live extras are only available on the Blu-ray edition.

The disc loads with Warner's extended pitch for Blu-ray and full trailers for video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Hills Run Red, and The Box. These are amusingly followed by an anti-tobacco spot posing as an energy drink ad and a pro-adoption PSA reminding us that Orphan is fictional.

The static menus feature images of Esther against cracked backgrounds. The main menu plays some score. There are no inserts inside the standard black keepcase.

Kate (Vera Farmiga) watches her two daughters play in the snow. Black light causes Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) to look evil and her black neck ribbon fluorescent blue.


Considering how bad many modern horror films are, it doesn't seem sufficient to simply point out that Orphan is better. This gripping thriller is a movie worth seeing, especially for fans of psychological horror. Unfortunately, Warner keeps it from being a DVD worth owning with a poor feature presentation and just four minutes of special features.

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) • Whatever Works • Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
Psychological Thrillers: The Uninvited • Dark Water (Unrated) • The Night Listener • The Village • Poltergeist (25th Anniversary)

The Cast of Orphan:
Vera Farmiga: Joshua • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas | Peter Sarsgaard: Flightplan
CCH Pounder: Gargoyles: Season 2, Volume 1 | Jimmy Bennett: Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie • He's a Bully, Charlie Brown

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Reviewed October 26, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures, Dark Castle Entertainment, and Warner Home Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.