Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Naughty, Naughty Orphan
(Any specific analysis of major plot points in this film can only lead to spoilers, and the less you know about what happens, the closer you might get to my enjoyment of the film, so I’m going to be very brief.)
It’s an oft-depicted tale: parents give birth to or adopt the child from hell. I suppose many parents can identify with that scenario since they suffer the anxiety of wondering whether or not Junior is going turn out all right – or turn out to be “a child of spleen,” as Shakespeare refers to daughter Goneril in King Lear. As for this version of the old story, it’s a gruesome one, and it’s a silly one in many ways, and elements of it are bad, but it’s ultimately a horrifying movie - so that means it's good. Let’s take a look at how good and how bad.
It’s as bad as all the horror movie clichés piled one on top of the other: the dark and stormy night; the sudden blasts of soundtrack that are more startling than what you actually see; the Internet search for information (I love how you can Google the answers to any sinister mystery); the dark-eyed girl with the mysterious past.
It’s as good as Vera Farmiga convincingly portraying Kate Coleman’s inner torment: her grief over losing a baby; her struggle with alcoholism; her guilt regarding her daughter’s near drowning; her suspicions of her adopted daughter; her frustration when no one will believe her.
It’s as bad as Kate grieving over a dead baby, struggling with alcoholism, carrying guilt regarding the near drowning of her daughter, and she wants to adopt a child!?
It’s as good as the wonderful performance of five-year-old Aryana Engineer (hearing impaired in real life) playing Max Coleman, Kate’s hearing impaired daughter who observes the rapidly developing treachery from within her silent world and suffers in silence as she comes under the sinister control of the creepy Esther.
It’s as bad as Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther giving classmates the evil eye and sidling up affectionately to her “Daddy” and mouthing affections in a stilted Russian accent while Peter Sarsgaard as John Coleman whines drunkenly in one of his worst performances.
It’s as good as Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther saying to Max in that Russian accent, “Grab a foot and help me drag the body out of the road.”
It’s as bad as Margo Martindale as a clueless psychiatrist who can’t see through Esther’s obviously false façade and who too easily jumps to the conclusion that Kate has lost her marbles.
It’s as good as the film’s nondescript location with its atmosphere of slushy gray snow and leafless trees. Moreover, it’s as good as its unrelentingly suspenseful and horrifying ending.