The scares are cheap, the laughs mostly intentional and the ending is a real lulu in Orphan, the latest from the director of House of Wax.
Violent, overlong and overtly sexual, Orphan is a parental nightmare painted in standard horror strokes. It feels too slow and moody for the Halloween crowd, and too absurd and silly for more discriminating horror fans.
Vera Farmiga revisits her Joshua role (mom suspects her child is a monster) but isn't at her best playing Kate, a mother grieving from a stillbirth and recovering from a bout with alcoholism. A pianist with two kids — the insolent 10-year-old Daniel (Jimmy Bennett, the youngest James T. Kirk in Star Trek) and deaf 5-year-old Maxine (Aryana Engineer) — Kate is on medication, and she and her architect-husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) keep a floral tribute to the stillborn "Jessica" in their home. Yet Kate's shrink (Margo Martindale) thinks they're ready to adopt.
And who do they settle on? Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a solitary Russian-accented angel with a serious, wise-beyond-her-9-years demeanor. Why hasn't she found a home?
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"I guess I'm different," she says.
The nun in charge (CCH Pounder) allows herself a worried look, but sure, she'll send Esther with Kate and John. She'll pick up American Sign Language on the drive home. What could go wrong?
First it's just her rebellious, name-calling brother ("You're such a freak"), and then it's the mean girls at school who fall under Esther's stink-eye. Bad things happen. Kate sees it. But John and the psychologist, thanks to Esther's sweet act, can't.
Farmiga, despite her Joshua practice, never gets across Kate's fear and alarm. The family dynamic offers fertile ground for real-world horror, but the script and director Jaume Collet-Serra give away the game too early. He reveals the child as a monster straight out.
At least, between close-up jolts and loud shock sound effects, he does a decent job of laying out the clues. Virtually every over-the-top laugh makes a certain amount of sense by the time we finally reach the formulaic finale.