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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: ORPHAN (1 Viewer)

Michael Reuben

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Orphan (Blu-ray)


Studio: Warner
Rated: R
Film Length: 123 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: VC-1
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English, French, Spanish, Portugese DD 5.1*
Subtitles: English SDH; French; Spanish; Portugese*
MSRP: $35.99
Disc Format: 1 50GB + 1 DVD (digital copy)
Package: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: July 24, 2009
Blu-ray Release Date: Oct. 27, 2009

*Although the Portugese soundtrack and subtitles are not listed either on the Blu-ray case or in the studio PR release, they appear on the disc’s menu.



Introduction:

Genre films get little respect these days, because everyone wants to know what’s so special about this one. “Another thriller? Who cares?” I care, because the odds are so stacked against a movie turning out well that a lot of filmmakers have to keep trying, even if it’s just to produce a decent genre picture. That’s why I appreciate the fact that the Tales from the Crypt team of Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gilbert Adler created Dark Castle Pictures to make thrillers (and recently other genres), even if the company’s output has been a mixed bag. (RocknRolla was great; House of Wax and The Reaping not so much.) Orphan is one of three 2009 releases from Dark Castle, and I put it in the “win” column.



The Feature:

Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) are a couple with issues. They are wrestling with the emotional devastation caused by the still birth of the daughter who would have been their third child. Kate relives the experience in nightmares that she relates to her therapist (Margo Martindale). There are also references to Kate’s alcohol abuse and the teaching career it cost her, a subject that John’s mother (Rosemary Dunsmore) is all too willing to throw in Kate’s face. Meanwhile, Kate tries to be a good mother to her daughter, “Max” (Aryana Engineer), who is hearing-impaired, and Max’s older brother, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett).

But the Colemans have developed a plan for moving on, and it involves adopting a child. Visting the Saint Mariana's Home for Girls, they encounter Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), an oddly self-possessed and artistically inclined little girl who came from a Russian orphanage. The nun in charge of Saint Mariana’s, Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), is enthusiastic about Esther, and the Colemans are immediately smitten. In no time Esther is serenely ensconced in the Colemans’ suburban Connecticut home.

But the serenity is short-lived, as Esther begins to exhibit behavior that is anything but what one would expect from a normal little girl. She is, of course, selective in who sees her being brutal to animals or avenging herself on a schoolmate or revealing an unexpected sexual frankness. Her inappropriate actions are alternately witnessed by Max or Daniel or Kate – never John – so that the credibility of her accuser can always be doubted. Not until very late in the film, when injuries are multiplying and people have started to go missing, does it begin to dawn on authority figures like John that this beautifully spoken china doll with the quaint attire may be something other than what she seems.

To the extent that Orphan works (and it doesn’t work for everyone), it’s because it contains the true essential ingredient of thrillers: credible performances. If the characters aren’t frightened, the audience won’t be either. Critics accused Vera Farmiga of slumming by taking this role, but they said the same thing about Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist. Farmiga’s Kate Coleman is both the principal witness of Esther’s evil and, as it turns out, the easiest target of her attacks, because Kate’s history of psychological and substance abuse issues makes her easy to frame as the villain who’s projecting all her problems on poor little Esther. Farmiga conveys, with piercing intensity, every moment of Kate’s guilt, frustration and despair, as well as her growing resolve to protect her family from this bizarre intruder. With a lesser actress in the role, the film would fall apart.

Farmiga is matched by newcomer Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. Some “evil kid” films need only an angelic face (The Omen is a classic example), but Orphan requires a genuine performance that has to build throughout the film, and Fuhrman has mastered an unnerving stillness that makes Esther truly creepy (even more so when the stillness breaks).

Other great performances come from little Aryana Engineer (who is hearing-challenged in real life) as Max, from Sarsgaard in the tricky role of John (is he really that oblivious, or is there something else going on?), and from reliable pros Martindale, Pounder and, in a single scene, Karel Roden, playing a doctor from Estonia with some interesting background information on Esther.



Video:

The 1.85:1 image is beautifully detailed, and the detail is all the more striking given the film’s largely monochromatic palette. The film is primarily set in wintry landscapes and overdesigned interiors (Sarsgaard’s John Coleman is an architect), and director Jaume Collet-Serra and his cinematographer Jeff Cutter have taken these locales as a cue to drain most of the color from the frame. But they have not sacrificed clarity in doing so. Black levels are excellent throughout. Moreover, the general absence of strong colors means that, when such colors do appear (flames or the fluorescent effect of a black light), they make a strong impression. Film grain is visible, and there is no sign of DNR or edge enhancement (although the opening sequence has various edge-streaking strobing effects that are obviously deliberate). This is another first-rate transfer from Warner.



Audio:

As with all recent Warner releases, the audio defaults to TrueHD, and the track creates a superbly realistic sense of the Colemans’ home environment. Just how realistic became clear to me in an early scene where Kate is distracted from piano practice because Max, who can’t hear the effect of her actions, is bouncing a basketball against an outside wall. I thought it was my own wall and put the player on pause to locate the “disturbance”!

Voices are natural-sounding, and dialogue is clear. John Ottman’s score is blended seamlessly with the film’s sound effects and never overpowers the action. This is a well-produced, well-presented track.



Special Features:

Mama’s Little Devils: Bad Seeds and Evil Kids (14:56) (HD). SPOILERS GALORE! Too short to be a true documentary and too spoiler-laden to be an EPK, this featurette contains interview snippets with the film’s stars, writers, producers and director, as well as with psychologists and horror film afficionados. Among other things, it briefly recapitulates the history of suspense films focusing on children, beginning with The Bad Seed in 1956.

Deleted scenes and alternate ending (4:04) (SD). There are 4 additional scenes, interesting but appropriately deleted. One short scene suggests a different plot direction that is described at IMDb, where early script versions are written up (containing numerous spoilers).

The alternate ending presents an interesting question. On the one hand, it would have been arguably more credible than the film’s existing ending. But on the other, it would certainly have been less satisfying dramatically, given what today’s audiences expect from their villains. It’s the kind of quandary that I suspect filmmakers routinely confront.

BD-Live. This is the rare Warner Blu-ray that is enabled for BD-Live. As of the date of this review, the Warner BD-Live site was accessible from this disc, but no features for Orphan were available. Features are promised in the future.

One odd note: Even though I had previously registered for Warner’s BD-Live, I was not allowed to access the site until I had logged in anew from a computer and completed/updated my registration. As an experiment, I created a new registration and discovered that it, too, required a computer login. It appears that Warner no longer allows a user to access BD-Live from a Blu-ray disc without a separate internet connection via PC or Mac.

Digital Copy. A digital copy of the film is provided on a separate disc. It is valid until Oct. 27, 2010.



In Conclusion:

Critics were evenly split over Orphan. Some thought it a superior thriller, while others dismissed it as garbage. I’m in the former camp and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in Roger Ebert’s company. The film satisfies both my number one requirement for a creep-fest, which is that the performances be both convincing and compelling, and my number two requirement, which is that the director (and editor) sustain the appropriate pace to maintain the tension. The presentation on Blu-ray takes care of the rest.



Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub
 

Michael Reuben

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Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden /forum/thread/294337/htf-blu-ray-review-orphan#post_3621450
/forum/thread/294337/htf-blu-ray-review-orphan#post_3621450
 

Ken_McAlinden

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Originally Posted by Michael Reuben ">[/url][/QUOTE]
I generally do the same thing, but am occasionally surprised when my review turns out very similar to one that I purposely avoided reading. I just read the DVD Savant review of "The Tall Target" from a week or two ago and was surprised how similar it was to the one I posted this morning. Glenn Erickson also pointed out a fact about "The Narrow Margin" pre-dating "The Tall Target" in production, but following it in release that I wish I had remembered before posting
 

TravisR

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I caught this in the theaters over the summer and was wondering why I was even bothering but I ended up liking the movie quite a bit. As always, it was nice to see CCH Pounder.

And am I the only who looked at the one-sheet/disc cover and thought that the bows in her hair and around her neck made it look like she was wearing some type of neckbrace?
 

Stephen_J_H

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I didn't think that, but I couldn't help but notice that the image is a mirror of one half of Isabelle Fuhrman's face, giving Esther's face perfect symmetry, which looks REALLY creepy.
 

Joe Karlosi

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Great review, Michael. I too didn't expect much going in but I thought that ORPHAN was an amazing surprise, just ever so slightly short of being a perfect film.
I certainly will be adding this Blu-ray to my library.
 

Doug Schiller

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Dec 16, 1998
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I liked the movie much more then I thought I would.
When you learn the back story (and some of it wasn't filmed or mentioned) you start to understand the actions.
This isn't some cheap scare bad child movie.

I was very intrigued by the alt ending. I like it better then the theatrical one but wish the director would explain how it would fit in to the movie proper.
I'm not sure what time and context it is happening. Seems like he needed to hit the rewind button and show more of what happened before.
 

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