by Corey Hall
Orphan is edgy, silly and over-the-top, a thriller that taps the undeniably spooky notion of a totally evil child. Little Esther is one messed-up kid, joining the pantheon of demonic tots from such classics as The Omen and the Bad Seed, but upping the scare factor with ashen skin, cold eyes and frilly dresses that make her look like some antique Victorian (how creepy!) doll.
Vera Farmiga and sleepy-eyed Peter Saarsgard play the yuppie saps who fall for her act, bringing her into their lush country manse, and into their lives, which are, you'll note, promptly ruined. They've two children already, but a miscarriage convinces them that another will repair the cracks in their marriage. Umm, bad call.
Despite icy stares from other kids, there's something about the little pig-tailed angel in silk ribbons when she sits quietly alone in the orphanage art room. The distracted husband should notice all warning signs, but he's more interested in Esther's amazingly advanced painting skills and deceptively sweet manner. Something just ain't right with this gal, and bad things start happening.
The actors are far better than the script and keep it compelling, even as the (fake) scare card gets played too often. Your enjoyment probably hinges on whether you think a 9-year-old girl smashing skulls in with a hammer is appalling or awesome. It may also depend on how you feel about the climax, maybe the craziest plot reveal in decades, but one that makes Orphan memorably entertaining trash.