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3 out of 5 stars
Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Spaniard Jaume Collet-Serra’s wickedly entertaining, if slightly over-stretched, variation on the familiar ‘evil child’ scenario displays an unusually complex grasp of twisted psychology. Rather than simply dumping a disruptive child into the heart of a happy family, it shows how grieving ex-alcoholic Kate (Vera Farmiga) and her architect husband John (Peter Saarsgard) – whose third child was stillborn – introduce a nine-year-old Russian orphan, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman, right), into their nest. But the precocious Esther is more controlling than consoling, a fully fledged cuckoo who starts to manipulate both her adoptive parents and her siblings, younger daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) and older son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett). Whether ingratiating herself with the innocent, deaf Max by turning their sign language into a conspiratorial game, or exploiting the adults’ secrets, Esther knows which buttons to push.
Producer Joel Silver regularly specialises in routine horror remakes, such as Collet-Serra’s previous ‘House of Wax’. But here, courtesy of an insidious screenplay by David Leslie Johnson, we are in more disturbing territory. More of a psychological thriller than a horror movie, ‘Orphan’ does contain explosions of shocking, though not especially graphic, violence. More frightening by far, however, are the subtly vicious mind-games, as Esther drives a wedge between her parents by insinuating that Kate is unhinged. There’s also a killer twist that forces the audience to rethink everything they’ve seen.