Orphan is a 2009 American psychological thriller film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from a screeplay by David Leslie Johnson.
The film is about a couple who adopts a mysterious 9-year-old girl after the death of their unborn child.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) are experiencing strains in their marriage after their third child was stillborn. The loss is particularly hard on Kate, who is also recovering from alcoholism.
The couple decides to adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) from a local orphanage. While Kate's and John's deaf daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) embraces Esther immediately, their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) is less welcoming.
Kate suspects that there might be problems in Esther's background when her knowledge of sex extends beyond her age. Her suspicions deepen when Esther seriously injures another girl (Jamie Young) who had bullied her.
Kate is further alarmed when Sister Abigail (C. C. H. Pounder), the head of the orphanage, warns that bad things happen when Esther is around. Esther overhears this and pushes Max into the path of Sister Abigail's car, forcing her to swerve off the road. Then, Esther kills her with a hammer and forces Max to help her hide the weapon in their treehouse.
Kate is convinced that something is very wrong with Esther, but John does not listen to her. Attempting to find out more about Esther, Kate finds her hidden Bible and discovers that it came from the Saarne Institute in Estonia (which she eventually learns is a mental hospital). She e-mails a picture of Esther to them and asks them for more information.
When Daniel learns about Sister Abigail's death from Max, he tells her of his plan to retrieve the hammer to prove Esther's guilt.
Esther overhears this and confronts Daniel as he searches the tree house, setting it on fire in an attempt to kill him and destroy the evidence. Daniel falls from the tree trying to escape and he is knocked unconscious. Esther attempts to finish him off with a rock, but Max stops her from doing so.
While Daniel is hospitalized, Esther slips into his room and smothers him with a pillow, stopping his heart, but the doctors quickly revive him. Realizing what happened, Kate attacks Esther, but hospital orderlies help John restrain her. As John takes Esther and Max home, the doctors sedate Kate.
That night, a provocatively-dressed Esther tries to seduce a drunken John, who finally realizes that Kate was right. He tells Esther that he will send her back to the orphanage, upsetting her.
Meanwhile, a groggy Kate receives a call from a doctor (Karel Roden) at the Saarne Institute, who reveals that Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer. Leena has hypopituitarism, a hormone disorder that has stunted her physical growth; she has spent most of her life posing as a little girl and had people adopt her with the goal of seducing the father and having a relationship with him.
The doctor reports that Leena is extremely violent and has murdered at least seven people. The last family (by whom she was adopted in Estonia) was killed by her because the father had rejected her sexual advances. Kate tries to get back home to stop Esther and prevent her family from suffering the same fate.
Leena flies into a rage after being spurned by John, and ransacks her room, while angrily removing her "little girl" makeup and clothes, revealing the scars from a straitjacket on her neck & wrists, weathered skin, stained teeth and fully developed breasts.
After removing the disguise that enhanced her illusion as the youthful "Esther," Leena kills John. Max witnesses her father's murder and hides. Kate rushes home and finds John dead. Leena gets a gun from John's safe, shoots Kate in the arm & then tracks Max down into the greenhouse.
Kate manages to knock Leena out, take the gun, and flee with Max. Leena regains consciousness and finds Kate and Max near a frozen pond. She lunges at Kate, knocking the gun away and hurling them both onto the ice.
Max picks up the gun and tries to shoot Leena, but she hits and shatters the ice below them instead, causing Kate and Leena to drop into the water. Kate is able to partially climb out of the pond.
Leena (reverting to her "Esther" persona) begs Kate not to let her die while hiding a knife behind her back. Kate angrily responds that she is not her mother and kicks her in the face, breaking her neck and sending her back into the pond. Max and Kate are met by the police moments after.
- Vera Farmiga as Kate Coleman
- Peter Sarsgaard as John Coleman
- Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther\Leena Klammer
- CCH Pounder as Sister Abigail
- Jimmy Bennett as Daniel "Danny" Coleman
- Margo Martindale as Dr. Browning
- Karel Roden as Dr. Värava
- Aryana Engineer as Maxine "Max" Coleman
- Rosemary Dunsmore as Barbara Coleman
- Genelle Williams as Sister Judith
- Lorry Ayers as Joyce
- Brendan Wall as Detective
- Jamie Young as Brenda
- Landon Norris as Austin
- Mustafa Abdelkarim as Trevor
In late November of 2007, Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard were cast in main roles in the film.
Vera Farmiga said that the film was appealing in so many ways, but largely because she got "a pay cheque, for once" and because she wanted to work with Peter Sarsgaard.
The principal photography for the film took place in Canada, in the cities of Burlington, Toronto, Port Hope and Montreal.
The movie was originally written to take place during the fall and some exterior shots were filmed to establish this, but shortly before principal photography was set to begin in December of 2007, the Toronto locations were hit with near-record snowfall, forcing the fall setting to be changed to winter.
One of the scenes written out as a result was a Halloween carnival at Daniel and Esther's school.
Isabelle Fuhrman auditioned for the role of Esther wearing an old-fashioned dress and ribbons around her wrists & neck.
The character of Esther was originally written as having platinum blonde hair, fair skin and delicate features, but the filmmakers were so impressed with Fuhrman's auditions, they cast her in the film despite not having any of Esther's physical characteristics.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra allowed Isabelle Fuhrman to do the swearing scene (in which Esther informs Kate that she is aware adults have sex) in one or two takes so she wouldn't have to swear repeatedly.
The earlier drafts of the film's script included background on Esther's past, John & Kate adopting a Puerto Rican girl before adopting Esther, John and Daniel's deaths, the seduction scene between Esther & John being longer & sexually graphic and Esther murdering the family pet hamster.
"Orphan" had its world premiere in Westwood, California on July 21, 2009. The following day, it was screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.
The film was released theatrically in North America on July 24, 2009. It was then released in the United Kingdom on August 7, 2009.
The film has grossed a total of $78,337,373.
Critical reaction to "Orphan" has been mixed to positive, with the film earning a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, where the consensus states:
"While it has moments of dark humor and the requisite scares, Orphan fails to build on its interesting premise and degenerates into a formulaic, sleazy horror/thriller."
It also earned a 42 out of 100 rating on Metacritic.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Orphan 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, "You want a good horror film about a child from hell, you got one."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle also gave a positive review, commenting:
"Orphan provides everything you might expect in a psycho-child thriller, but with such excess and exuberance that it still has the power to surprise."
Todd McCarthy of Variety was less impressed, writing:
"Teasingly enjoyable rubbish through the first hour, Orphan becomes genuine trash during its protracted second half."
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote:
"Actors have to eat like the rest of us, if evidently not as much, but you still have to wonder how the independent film mainstays Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard ended up wading through Orphan and, for the most part, not laughing."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D+ score, noting, "Orphan isn't scary – it's garish and plodding."
Overtly negative reviews ranged from "galling, distasteful trash" (Eric D. Snider) to "old-fashioned and trashy horror flick" (Emanuel Levy) and "relentlessly bad," albeit "entertaining" (Rob Vaux).
Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews wrote:
"The problem with Orphan isn't merely that the film is idiotic – it's that it's also sleazy, formulaic and repellant."
Keith Phipps from The A.V. Club wrote:
"If director Jaume Collet-Serra set out to make a parody of horror film clichés, he succeeded brilliantly."
Although the film received mixed reviews, Fuhrman's performance was acclaimed and positively received.
Emanuel Levy wrote that she "acquits herself with a strong performance, affecting a rather convincing Russian accent and executing sheer evil with an admirable degree of calm and earnestness."
Todd McCarthy proclaims that Fuhrman (as well as fellow juvenile cast members Aryana Engineer and Jimmy Bennett) are terrific, and that Fuhrman "makes Esther calmly beyond reproach even when faced with monumental evidence against her, and has the requisite great evil eye."
Mick LaSalle continued that Fuhrman "steals the show" and that she "injects nuance into this portrayal, as well as an arch spirit."
Roger Ebert determined she "is not going to be convincing as a nice child for a long, long time."