Suspend Your Disbelief #2: Orphan

Hello, all! This post brought to you by the Cheetah Girls because why the hell not! I’m listening to that soundtrack at this very moment and I can tell you I am not disappointed.

Those sweatsuits should be hung in a museum!

In honor of Halloween, I’d like to review a wonderful little film called Orphan. This is a bit of a throwback but I watched it for the first time yesterday and boy is it one of the strangest films I have seen in a while. What are the chances of seeing Peter Saarsgard and Clove from the Hunger Games in a movie together? 24 hours ago, I would have said the odds were pretty damn slim. Now, everything has changed.

We are first introduced to Kate (Vera Farmiga) when she is mid-labor. This ain’t your standard birthing, however, as Kate starts to bleed profusely (and the director gives us a birds-eye-view of the blood trailing behind her wheelchair) and is rushed into the delivery room. The doctors tear out her bloody baby with what appeared to be pliers and then thrust the corpse into Kate’s hands, telling her the baby is stillborn. If you’re thinking “but that’s not how hospitals work,” you’re smarter than the average bear because PSYCHE! it was all a dream.

Obviously Kate has some “mild” baby issues. There’s a 99 percent chance that we won’t understand the full extent of her trauma until the last 10 minutes of the movie. But why tell us now when she can reveal all in a climactic chase scene?

Besides these disturbing dreams, domestic bliss reigns in Kate’s house. Her husband, John, is a filthy rich architect, and she has two other children, a deaf daughter named Max and a son named Daniel. The conversations between Max and her family are told through sign language, which was a nuanced touch. Oftentimes deaf characters are portrayed as being mentally impaired, so it was refreshing to see Max as a healthy little girl who is not defined by her disability,

Although they have two children, Kate and John feel the need to adopt a child who will most likely ruin complete their idyllic life.They head to an orphanage and adopt an orphan named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) who dresses like a victorian school girl and wears thick ribbons around her wrists and neck. John and Kate are entranced by her precocious intelligence and paintings. Little did they know that she would grow up to be a vicious murderer.

Max readily welcomes Esther into the family, but Daniel is understandably upset to have another sibling. Instead of watching Daniel play Guitar Hero, John would rather shower presents onto Esther. Daniel takes out his frustrations by bullying her at school. Don’t these kids have anything better to do than make fun of a girl who looks like a French doll? I cannot over exaggerate how adorable Esther looks in this movie. That’s probably why she gets away with such a bad Russian accent.

One girl in particular won’t leave Esther alone. She calls Esther a Jesus Freak for carrying a bible around at school and tries to take off Esther’s ribbons. Would a  nine-year-old really call someone a Jesus Freak? Yikes, their insults have really been elevated from “you’re a stupid face.” The camera gives a lot of emphasis to Esther’s bible and her ribbons, so we can be certain that they will play some pivotal part in the upcoming plot twist. And as such, we can also be certain that the little girl who bullied Esther better watch her back.

Despite troubles at school, Esther seems to be bonding well with her family. She learns sign language in only a few days, a feat I’m sure is not possible, takes piano lessons from Kate, and grows close to John. Too close, it seems, because when she stumbles upon John and Kate having very public sex in their kitchen, her first look is not shock but jealousy. At this point my friend asked: “Is there an Electra thing going on here?” and I answered; “Oh God, I hope not.” But our wish was not to be granted. Kate attempts to talk with Esther about what she saw, taking the usual Disney approach of “When Mommy and Daddy love each other very much…” but Esther is not having any excuses. “I know, you were fucking,” she says. Electra complex indeed.

It’s too late to turn back now!

Kate is understandably worried about Esther’s knowledge of sex. In this day and age, I would think that maybe Esther has been watching too much Tosh.0. John tries to explain to Kate this possibility, but she is determined that Esther is not what she seems. You’re right, Kate! You are definitely the only sane person in this film.

Esther continues to be really dangerous and creepy. At the park, she pushes the girl who bullied her off a slide, causing her to break her leg. That was a surprisingly tense scene. The director made an innocuous jungle gym set seem like a horrifying maze.I was pretty sure Esther would be waiting to hurt the girl, so it wasn’t surprising when she did, but still it’s amazing what changing the camera’s point of view can do for a scene. Revolutionary!

Or is it?

When John and Kate Plus Eight (how did I just realize this joke?) confront Esther, she says that the girl slipped and Max confirms that it was an accident. We aren’t sure at this point whether Max is being manipulated by Esther or if she is frightened of her. Either way, I’m sure being deaf makes it easier for people to believe your blatant lies!

Kate wants to know more about Esther’s past, so she contacts  Sister Abigail, the nun who gave them Esther. John is all like “you’re over-exaggerating,” and refuses to help. Why would John distrust his wife’s intuition? Perhaps a little dark past between them? Like an AFFAIR! Or a STILL-BIRTH? Or  ALCOHOLISM? It’s all of those things. Life in paradise is not so perfect after all. Sister Abigail tells Kate that whenever Esther is around, bad things start to happen. Unfortunately for Sister Abigail, Esther has mad eavesdropping skills and overhears their entire conversation. She goes into John’s work room and steals a hammer, then takes Max with her to go “confront” Sister Abigail.

Max’s inability to speak creates opportunities for Esther to manipulate her. I think that because she is incapable of vocalizing her distress, Max is more easily taken advantage of than someone like Daniel, for instance.  The real question: why would Esther want Max for an ally? Max is only five years old. There’s little she can do besides follow directions. Much of the following crime is dependent on Max’s obedience, but it also bends the laws of reality.

Esther and Max wait near a bridge that they know Abigail will drive over. Esther tells Max that she just wants to scare Abigail so that she won’t take her away, but I’m pretty sure Max sees through this lie. As Abigail drives by, Esther pushes Max in front of the car. Clearly she wanted Abigail to hit Max , but instead she swerves and hits a tree. Then Esther approaches and murders her with a hammer. Esther may have a hammer, but she’s also a pretty small child. It seems improbable to me that she would have overpowered Abigail and killed her so easily. The improbability continues when Esther tells Max that she needs to help her hide Abigail or else Max will end up in prison for murder. Doh? You’re smarter than this, Max! They’d never send a five-year-old to jail for seeing a murder. But helping to hide the body? That looks a whole lot worse. Somehow the two tiny children manage to drag a full-grown woman off the road before another car drives by, but they leave the obvious bloodstains intact. Then they hide the murder weapon in Daniel’s tree-house. And Daniel sees this obstruction of justice because there’s no privacy in movies.

Can’t someone hide a murder weapon in peace?

Sensibly, Daniel hides behind a rock when Esther and Max leave the tree-house. He knows what’s up. Alas, Esther misses nothing. She’s hyper-sensitive to eavesdropping, probably because she’s an expert at it. She enters Daniel’s room that night, and, I kid you not, threatens to cut off his balls if he tattles on her. That does not sound like the usual threat that a nine-year-old child would employ. Suspicious, suspicious. Daniel pees himself in fear and Esther is disgusted. I feel like this sort of scene happens too often in movies. Person is threatened, person pees themself, person who is doing the threatening makes fun of them for an uncontrollable reaction. Really, violent people? What do you expect will happen when you threaten to murder someone? Do you think they’ll laugh?

This is the situation in the Coleman household thus far. Both Max and Daniel are being threatened by Esther, Kate is suspicious, and John is blissfully unaware that anything is wrong. Kate takes Esther to a therapist to see if she’s being paranoid, but the therapist is enchanted with Esther’s charming (psychopathic) ways. John uses this as another way to invalidate Kate’s fears, so Kate promises to give Esther another chance. She shows Esther the memorial for their stillborn baby and the white roses she planted to honor it. Esther tells Kate that she is a good mommy, but like usual she is secretly plotting to fuck shit up.

She tells John that she’s worried that Kate doesn’t love her, but John ensures her that Kate does love her as much as all the other children. I don’t think you’ve been paying attention, John. Esther decides to make Kate love her by enraging her further. Seems like the wrong way to go about it, but what do I know? She surprises Kate with some beautiful flowers…that she picked from Kate’s stillborn baby’s memorial. Kate flips out and grabs Esther by the arm, throwing her on the floor. Esther screams and cries like someone who didn’t just steal flowers from a baby’s grave and John rushes in to save her. That night, Esther breaks her arm by twisting it in a vice and blames it on Kate. This is all amounting to a psychopathic plan to frame Kate for instability and child abuse. These actions also place Esther in the same realm as Amy from Gone Girl who also self-mutilates herself in an elaborately planned framing. Is this just something that psychopathic women do? I’ve never seen a male character hurt themselves to frame someone. Maybe hurt others, but not themselves.

Kate’s struggles with her ALCOHOLISM and buys two bottles of wine. Instead of drinking them, she stares at a full glass and then pours it down the sink. You can bet that Esther noticed this. That girl is everywhere. The next morning, Kate drops Esther, Daniel, and Max off at school. While Kate helps Daniel pick up some books, Esther puts the car in neutral and it falls backwards down the hill with Max still strapped into the front seat. This was a very risky move for Esther as anyone could have seen her (and probably did see her) shift the gears. Luckily, the car lands in a snowbank and no one is hurt. John blames Kate for the accident, telling her that Esther (!!!) told him that Kate was drinking. Even though she tries to deny it, John once again takes the word of a manipulative nine-year-old over that of his wife. Good husbanding, John! Kate implores Daniel and Max to tell her if Esther has been hurting them, but they both lie and said she does nothing. Kate is not convinced.

While Esther is in the shower, Kate hurries into her room and steals her bible. Why didn’t she do this important information gathering when Esther was at school? Why do movie characters always perform such tasks under extreme time constraints? Kate does not answer our yelled questions, instead discovering that the book is from the Saarne Institute in Estonia. So Esther’s not Russian! That explains everything! That night, Kate decides to take Max and run, but Esther is waiting for her in Max’s room. She tells Kate that she knows all about her dark past in which Max almost drowned because Kate was drunk. So Kate is forced to leave.

Kate calls the institute and sends them a picture of Esther, asking that they identify her and give some background information. This information won’t be divulged for another 30 minutes, of course.  Meanwhile, Daniel and Max conspire to prove Esther’s guilt by finding the murder weapon in the tree-house. But Esther hears them, naturally, and is waiting when Daniel arrives. She locks him in the tree house and SETS IT ON FIRE and then watches as Daniel is trapped. Why on earth does she keep trying to harm these children? If her plan is for John and Kate plus eight to separate, harming their children will not help. It will only make John upset and inhibit her plans to seduce him. Additionally, anyone investigating the aftermath of a tree house fire would know that it would not spontaneously combust and would look for a culprit. Since Kate had been in the kitchen and Esther would have been unaccounted for, she would be the only suspect. An accidental gear shift is very different from tree house arson in terms of culpability.

Daniel jumps from the burning tree house and is knocked unconscious. Esther tries to end the affair by bludgeoning him with a rock, but Max appears and pushes her down. Kate finally appears after a zillion years to rescue her unconscious son. How did she not notice an enormous fire from her kitchen window? Maybe she has been drinking. They take Daniel to the hospital, where he lies comatose on a ventilator. But Esther isn’t finished.

While John and Kate are grieving, Esther sneaks into Daniel’s room and suffocates him with a pillow. Don’t you know that detectives can detect pillow fibers in lungs, Esther?! She’s becoming really sloppy now. So far she has committed one murder, and three attempted murders, and still no one has batted an eye. Where are the police? Has no one even tried to investigate Sister Abigail’s death?

The doctors arrive in time to resuscitate Daniel, but only just. In these movies the nurses are always like “only family allowed, sir” but they’re just terrible at keeping murderers out. You need to step up your game, hospitals!

No one seems to blame Esther even though there was probably video footage AND the grandma (who was there btw) saw Esther leave. Kate lashes out and pushes Esther to the ground, but the nurses sedate her (can they do that?) and John pulls Esther to safety. What’s your problem, John?

John presents Kate with an ultimatum. She leaves, or he takes the kids and gets a divorce. What kids, John? One of your kids is in the hospital, one is traumatized, and the other one is responsible for both of these things! John drinks too much (and I thought Kate was the alcoholic) and is in a full on stupor when Esther comes downstairs, dressed as a mini prostitute. She tries to seduce John, but he throws her off and tells her that he’s going to send her back to the orphanage. Ugggghh, I hate underage scenes like this. I know it’s acting, but it’s still super gross. Speaking of underage seduction scenes, was anyone else uncomfortable with the Athena/ George Clooney love affair in Tomorrowland? I’m really at a loss for what Brad Bird was trying to accomplish with that.

John’s rejection causes Esther to fly into a rage. She goes upstairs and washes off her makeup. Then she TAKES OUT HER TEETH and unbinds her breasts.

Confused? Let Kate’s conveniently timed phone call explain for you. The Saarne Institute tells Kate that the girl she thought was Esther is actually a 33-year-old mental case named Leena Klammer who has a hormone disorder that allows her to pose as a little girl and get adopted by families. She wore a strait-jacket for most of her incarceration, which is why she wears ribbons to hide the marks left in her skin. She has been responsible for many murders, all the result of sexual rejection.

Unbelievable, right? How did this movie get past the pre-production stages?

Screenwriter: So there’s this girl and she tries to seduce older men.

Producers: Go on…

Screenwriter: These older men are her adopted fathers.

Producer: Go on…

Screenwriter: And also she’s actually a 33-year-old woman.

Producer: Wut. 

None of this makes sense. How did a 33-year-old woman escape from an institute without alerting the police, especially if she was in a high-security straight jacket? How did no doctor realize that she wasn’t actually nine years old? She’s murdered seven people and no one has caught on? An orphan involved with seven murders would be all over the news, even if they didn’t think she was responsible. Are we supposed to believe that everyone in this world is so completely incompetent that her murdering spree and posing went unnoticed for so long?

Surely it would have been easier to seduce men without killing their families too? There are a lot of men who are interested in young girls. Granted, they’re commonly considered pedophiles, but she’s no virgin mary. What I’m trying to say is that it seems like she went through a whole lot of trouble just to sleep with some older men when she could’ve cut out their families and made some money for herself. There I go again, trying to insert logic into a movie that is bat-shit crazy.

Esther decides to murder John. I’m not gonna keep you waiting. She succeeds in this endeavor and moves on to murder Max. Kate, having discovered Esther’s weird-ass past, tries to call John to warn him but it’s too late because he’s dead. She drives home to save Max and almost gets into a car accident 10000 times. What is this cliche that people can’t drive when they’re upset? I’d think that she’d be hyper-focused on her way home. Also, why didn’t you call the police dummy?! They could’ve arrived there much quicker.

Kate arrives and finds John’s dead body. Then she calls the police. About time, honey. She searches for Max and finds her hiding in the greenhouse. The weird thing is that Kate is standing on top of the green house roof so that when they communicate Max is signing up to the sky. Esther finds Max pretty easily in all of those plants, but before she can shoot her, Kate literally drops from the sky and lands on top of her. Kate grabs Max and they run outside to the woods. The police men have arrived by now, so everything should be fine and dandy! NOT!

Esther is still alive even though a 140 pound woman (I’m guessing) just fell on her. She chases Kate onto a frozen pond and tries to stab her to death. But Max, who until now has had no independent thinking skills, grabs Esther’s fallen gun (she has many weapons) and shoots the ice to crack it. I can understand a five-year-old correlating a gun with death. Shooting the gun is another step. But shooting the gun at the ice instead of a person is some relatively complex thinking going on here. And this from a girl who allowed Esther to convince her to walk in front of a moving car!

Esther and Kate fall into the frozen pond. I was having horrible Balto flashbacks at this point, guys. Kate succeeds in breaking free and kicks Esther in the face, breaking her neck and consigning her into the watery depths. Phew, glad that struggle is over. All’s well that ends well.  Kate and Max are rescued by the police,  John is dead, Daniel is still in a coma, and Daniel’s tree house burned down.

Spare Parts

  • “I’m not your Mommy!”- Kate. I think you made that abundantly clear by kicking Esther in the face.
  • This movie was produced by Leo Dicaprio’s production company Appian Way and if you’re not surprised about that, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
  • How did no one notice Esther painting these on her wall?!!!!
  • Speaking of, I feel really bad for the crew members who actually painted this. You the real MVP.
  • Esther sings in the shower so that she can lock the door without her parents worrying about her. Yet no one EVER notices when she stops singing and overhears their conversations!

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