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Movie Review

Orphan a.k.a. “There's Something Wrong With Esther,” “La huérfana,” “A Órfã,” “L'orpheline,” “Naslaite,” “Orfana,” “Sierota,” “Siroce,” “Sirota,” “To orfano,” “Vaeslaps,” “Демон,” “Сирота,” “Órfã”

MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language.

Reviewed by: Thaisha Geiger

Very Offensive
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Primary Audience:
Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Drama
2 hr.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
July 24, 2009 (wide—2,600 theaters)
DVD: October 27, 2009
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

Orphans in the Bible


Dreams in the Bible


DEPRESSION—Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

About murder in the Bible

Featuring: Vera Farmiga, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer, Lorry Ayers, Rosemary Dunsmore, Margo Martindale, Matthew Raudsepp, Karel Roden, Andrew Shaver
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Producer: Warner Bros. Pictures, Dark Castle Entertainment, Appian Way, DCP Orphan Productions, Don Carmody Productions, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Barrett, Don Carmody, Susan Downey, Ethan Erwin, Michael Ireland, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Richard Mirisch, Erik Olsen, Josette Perrotta, Steve Richards, Joel Silver, Charlie Woebcken
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“There’s something wrong with Esther.”

During the past several years, it seems that horror movies have barely conjured up any new elements to use instead of the overused plot devices and ever increasing gore. “Orphan” has been labeled by some as being an excellent thriller with an original ending. While the ending’s twist is indeed quite original, the movie eventually becomes a preposterous heap of overused clichés.

Kate Coleman bears the physical and emotional scar of the death of her unborn daughter Jessica. After Jessica’s death, Kate becomes an alcoholic and almost loses her other daughter Max when she falls into the pond. As a result of the accident, Max becomes deaf, and Kate decides to become sober for the sake of her children. After much discussion, she and her husband John feel they are ready to adopt a third child to complete their family.

Upon entering the orphanage, John hears singing which lures him into the company of Esther. She’s all by herself, painting beautiful pictures. Once Kate joins them, the connection is immediate, with Esther seeming far wiser than her nine years. They then decide to adopt her. It is not long before Esther wrecks havoc upon the Coleman household.

The movie begins rather strongly. To picture Kate’s pain, we see a nightmare where she’s giving birth to a stillborn in a bloodbath with scary tools. The movie gives off an eerie vibe and when we meet Esther, she’s chillingly odd with her ribbons. The film also invests a good amount of time describing Max’s hearing-impaired world. There is a beautiful scene where Max takes off her hearing aids as Kate tells her a story in sign language. Sadly, once Esther goes home, the film’s latter half drops into an epitome of the horror checklist that results in tedious viewing for one who’s well acquainted with this genre. The “jump” scenes are obvious, and Esther’s true motive is apparent almost immediately.

Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are what help elevate the film’s quality. Although Sarsgaard has one of the most ignorant, annoying characters I’ve seen in a long time. Over and over, Kate expresses her concerns about Esther, and John remains oblivious. At the end, Kate tells him that she’s tired of connecting the dots for him; she had more patience than the average person. Kate’s character is well-rounded. She loves her children, struggles with sobriety and sees into Esther’s façade.

Offensive Content

Cursing begins halfway through the film with several uses of the ‘f’ word and sh*t. A child is threatened to stay quiet or his “pr_ck” will be cut off before he knew what it was for. The violence is rather heavy. As this is a horror movie, there are plenty of instances of attempted murders and actual ones. However, I will list the ones that are graphic in nature. A bird gets smashed with a rock; two people are gruesomely murdered with a hammer and a knife. And finally another is suffocated with a pillow.

***Paragraph has spoiler content***
There’s some sexual content that should be addressed. There are two sexual scenes between Kate and John. In the first, she simply goes under the covers. In the second, they attempt to have sex in the kitchen. While the latter is more graphic, no actual nudity is shown, and I did not find it offensive, since it is between man and wife and realistically depicted. However, what I did find offensive and in bad taste is the sexual content with Esther. Part of the twist is that Esther tries to seduce John. In the end, she is wearing heavy makeup and a dress in attempts to woo him. She then suggestively kisses John on his face and puts her hand on his lap, implying her attempt to give him pleasure. While the scene is tame, I believe it is in bad taste for a child actor to physically act out that scene. ***End of Spoilers***

The Bible does address adoption. The most well-known adoption story is probably that of Moses. While most would be acquainted with how the pharaoh’s daughter decided to adopt him, God showed his loving nature when unknowing to the pharaoh’s daughter, she summoned Moses’ actual mother to nurse him until he was old enough to be weaned (Exodus 2:8-9). Besides Moses, the Queen Esther of the Bible was also adopted.

Adoption comes out of love. Like the pharaoh’s daughter, she knew Moses was a Hebrew baby, but she felt love for the child. The most important adoption is when we decide to walk with Christ. We are then adopted into God’s family. The Lord never did this out of selfish reasons, but out of love. In Ephesians 1:5, it reads: “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” Romans 8 also has excellent reading about being God’s children and heirs of his kingdom.

There has been some controversy regarding how “Orphan” has portrayed adoption. In opposition, several have said that this film would make parents weary of giving older children a home. It is a sad fact that older children are harder to find homes for. However, I do not feel that this film will hurt adoption, but instead would make potential adoptive parents research the agencies more closely.

Adopting is a serious commitment which should not be taken lightly. The film portrays this. Kate was approved by her psychiatrist to adopt. In addition, she and her husband had taken time with their decision. Yes, Esther was evil, but the film had an enormous plot hole that in real life should never be overlooked. Whenever adopting a child, one should look into all possible records of the child. The Catholic orphanage where Esther lived barely had anything. Only after incidents began happening was when they finally began connecting the dots.

If it weren’t for the cast and the cinematography, this film perhaps would have been worse. I, personally, believe Vera Farmiga is one of today’s most underrated actresses. She helped carry this film because she actually makes the audience care for her character. However, this movie is not appropriate for viewing, especially the suffering that the children had to endure at the hands of Esther. My advice is to skip it.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—I have to agree with Ebert. This film does what’s supposed to do, and it does it very well. Not scare, but deliver on its most basic premise. The child from hell goes berserk. I mean overboard. Off the deep end. The climax is climactic. Recursive heh? Indeed, but I mean it. Orphan ends on a whopper note; it’s not as revelatory as say… heavyweight horror champ “Saw,” but still. It’s buttkicking.

…I tell ya, I love movies. I love the articulate detail them nerdy editors and directors combined put into film footage (or what is nowadays globs of pixels). Splicing together raw data into a cohesive production—it’s amazing really. I assure you, the cinematography behind “Orphan” is promising from start to finish. It backs this chilling story like bloodletting in a Mel Gibson war epic. “Orphan” glides along with decent effects (though the pyro house scene was less than satisfying), costuming, and makeup.

It pulls a few one-too-many gags of the horror genre early on, I guess in some feeble attempt to build tension while developing the characters.

However, having said that, the jump scares, the random loud noises… all of it—their inclusion is rectified by an end product that is holistically devoted to making the titular character a truly horrifying menace. I swear on Uncle Ben’s converted rice the production crew spared no expense in making the best of every angle of that poor girl’s haunting face. The dark hair with the freckles, the antiquated clothing, the Russian accent… they all meld together, forming one truly sinister foe of death, destruction, and all things macabre.

In the words of the tale’s token Dad, there’s an explanation… to everything. Indeed there is… I can’t think of a single instance that doesn’t serve as a reference to a later plot point or a more immediate one. Yay for pyramiding. Lastly, you won’t expect it from the trailer, which by the way, is fair to say poorly representative of the movie, but this is a remarkable film. I had fun and I dare wager my crew had fun, though they may be remiss to admit it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Mega Tron, age 23 (USA)
Positive—I watched “Orphan” on DVD this weekend. I found it to be very suspenseful and it did catch us by surprise as there were several major twists in this movie. First, it is very unlikely that a woman would do all these things as almost all murders are done by males. It is even rarer that a woman would murder another woman in such a violent way, again, that is reserved and usually done by males. Still, when someone is extremely psychotic, they are also very intelligent and can often gain the trust of those around them.

I do not find it odd that this “girl” was able to gain the trust of the man as women are often more alert to potential problems, especially those seen in other females. I do think most women can control most males completely and we have seen this in the Garden of Eden where Eve led Adam to do what she wanted. Of course, Adam must have wanted to eat of the forbidden fruit also but he wanted to use Eve for a scapegoat. He listened to Eve and we males have been listening to women ever since then in areas we should not and shutting them out when we should be listening.

It was offensive in the attempted seduction of the father but when we see the truth of who Ester was, we can understand this attempted seduction better, but we can see this man did set limits when it was needed, many males would not have. Still, he paid a very high price for not listening to his wife although the family also paid this price. As to the language, perhaps the most offensive part is the orphan telling the small boy she would cut his hairless (offensive term for penis) off before he knew what it was for.

This was not needed to carry the story line as she already threatened to kill him if he told that should have been enough, but I am very thankful that if they had to use slang terms for anatomy, at least it was the male anatomy and not a woman’s anatomy. It does seem like almost every Hollywood movie has to use offensive terms for testicles even if no other terms are used. These terms are even included in some children’s movies lately. Personally it would be nice to do away with slang terms for anatomy but if I could do away with slang terms for the anatomy of only one gender, it would be the terms used for women.

I do think we can tell how well a society is by the way it treats its women.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Ron, age 26 (USA)
Positive—This film had some of the most air-tight chilling and eerie moments that I’ve ever seen; the atmosphere was perfect, the costuming (especially for the gorgeous and at first adorable Esther) flawless. The casting was also brilliant, and it’s been a while since I felt bonded as tightly as flesh to characters, loving them and sometimes wanting to shake them.

By the end of the film, I wanted to protect all of that family… including Esther. The making of this film and my bond with all the characters, including the darkest one, are my reasons for giving the movie a positive rating (I won’t give away Esther’s secret, but if you read the movie trivia on IMDB, relating to parts of Esther’s tragic history found in the original script, you’ll see some facts undisclosed in the film, facts that explain all her disturbed actions perfectly).

Another person here wisely mentioned how the mentally ill need prayer, and Esther brought a new level of empathy for me that I NEVER expected from her character. If you take the pasts and the lives of all the characters here together, the movie should present a brilliant picture for Christians of what suffering can cause, and how much Christ’s love and wisdom are needed to bind wounds.

Even before the film ended and all secrets were revealed to me, I felt deeply and unexpectedly for Esther; this is due not only to the tight story, but also to the brilliance of young actress Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Esther. Many have justly called her the best actress to be seen in years.

This film is NOT in any way about the sexualizing of children. Actress Isabelle Fuhrman was almost the purported age of Esther when she gained the role, but she was not required to do anything more shocking (sensually) than say a few crude words, put her hand on an older actor’s leg and make puppy eyes at him (once you know all about Esther, this scene makes sense, and the dress she wore was really not revealing; it showed some of her skinny legs and upper chest. The most disturbing thing about the outfit was the geisha-style makeup she wore).

I have spoken online with Ms. Fuhrman more than once, and she is one of the freshest and most intelligent teens there is, with a wonderful mixture of innocence and groundedness; she has not, in any way, been traumatized by this role. I hope anyone seeing this film will not make negative assumptions about the actors, the writers or how it would affect views of adoption.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jennifer, age 26 (USA)
Neutral—I first heard about “Orphan” quite some time ago. It wasn’t until the Facebook warnings and petitions about this film began surfacing, that I really paid much attention to it though. I am not a “bandwagon” kind of girl. It isn’t until I feel very, personally, convicted about something before I take a stand. And yet I found myself surrounded by people warning me of this movie. Warning the world of the damage this film could do to adoption, specifically adoption of older children. I don’t know, I guess the theory (based solely on the trailer) was panic that people everywhere would see that adopting an older child comes with risks, and therefore these kids would be even harder to place.

I have to admit, based solely on my perspective of the trailer (prior to seeing the film), I sort of felt the opposite. Adoption is an AMAZING thing. It is truly extraordinary. Parenting any child is difficult, so please know that I am in no way undermining this at all. HOWEVER, parenting a child who suffers from an attachment disorder is beyond anything imaginable. I had read the books, done the clinical work and heard the minimal positive stories right along with the garishly nightmarish ones. I believed I was prepared. I was a fool.

There are not enough adjectives, in the world, to explain what parenting a child with an attachment disorder is like. And it really doesn’t improve, it simply changes. There are different severities, multiple extremes. Manipulation is, at all times, the main agenda. And I am sorry, but all too often people are entering into these adoptions believing that the child “just needs a loving family,” or “will be so grateful for a forever home.” These are myths.

Although a child may need a loving family, or deeply aches for a forever home, he or she NEEDS so much more. Therapeutically. Psychologically. And my belief is, that because the system is so crowded with these kids—these details tend to be sugar coated to push adoptions through. The tragic result is often criminal. The middle result is that these kids end up in multiple adoptions or growing up in a group home specifically for unhealthy children who can’t function in a family. It doesn’t have to be that. It is, more often then not, hell—to bond with a child who has an attachment disorder. Sometimes, that never happens.

At any rate, I feel the warnings for this movie (yes, back to the movie) were ridiculous. They were, suffice it to say, based in ignorance. Most likely, someone with a voice sent out an email warning of this “horrible” movie. It probably said something like “Tell everyone! Do what we can to stop movies like this from trying to ruin adoption.” Because the people, who heard it from someone else, who heard it from someone else-else, just kept passing the word-people probably started to believe that someone, somewhere, must know what they were talking about. They didn’t.

The first 1/2 of this film was flawless (technologically speaking, they were really well shot and edited, etc…), but adoption-wise, this could have been the PERFECT parable of an attachment disorder kid. All of the girl’s wrong choices seemed to stem from an understandable place. You wanted her new family to work, you sympathized with her fears of failing or being found unlovable. Maybe not everyone did, but we did. We understood. We saw the root of her “behavior” because we’ve been there.

Then the movie gets really stupid, and suffice it to say ends up not having one thing to do with adopting an older child, or the risks involved (and in a really stupid way, as well).

Overall, I didn’t like the movie and found it inappropriate and disgusting. I am disgusted that a child was cast to do half the stuff this girl’s character did. But my opinion isn’t based on the bandwagon to boycott this film, which stemmed from total ignorance.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Misty Wagner, age 33 (USA)
Neutral—at first, I did not want to see this movie, because I thought it would be the typical child gone bad movie, but after watching a clip on the internet of people who saw the movie I decided to give it a chance. the people that were interviewed said a lot of good things about the movie and it wasn’t just a bad child movie. So I said okay this movie sounds like it has substance and may have a good moral at the end. It wasn’t until I looked up the times for the movie online that I realized it was rated R, but I gave it a chance anyway.

it was actually a really good movie with a twist at the end. it also was original, which I wasn’t expecting. the acting was great and shooting style was also good. the f-bomb was dropped about 6 or 7 times and there was a very graphic sex scene. this movie is just an eye opener for people who do not know that much about the mentally ill and how dangerous they can be and also how much we should pray for them.

I warn you, if you go see this movie, go with extreme caution.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Gene Cooks, age 34 (USA)
Negative—Watched the film with a friend, and we were on our phones half of the time. I think the Audience certificate is somewhat disturbing. Don’t know if it’s true, but I was told It was rated 13 in Canada [Editor’s note: “13+” in Quebec. “14A” British Columbia/Ontario. “18A” Alberta/Manitoba/Nova Scotia.]. How on Earth would you expect 13 year olds to see such a movie. I know a few films never leave impressions in children’s minds, but I strongly believe this film will leave an impression on children’s minds. And I think it’s not a good way to expose a young girl to acting. I think they made a devil out of the innocent actor in this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Gbenga, age 26 (UK)
Negative—My husband and I did not like this movie. We were both embarrassed by the sex scenes, which did not contain nudity but was graphic as far as the motions go. We would not want our 12 year old to see this, and I can’t imagine anyone letting their 13 yr old see it. One would have to be quite jaded to be unaffected by this scene. It’s not appropriate for any age, because the characters are only portraying a married couple. they are not actually married and should not be humping like that! Another problem is the disrespect for marriage throughout; his affair, and both of their desire to leave the marriage at the slightest problem. No mention of God is ever made, not even by the nuns at the orphanage.

When Esther starts causing problems, the husband is not supportive of his wife but sides with the child. One scene shows Esther in the couples bed, the husband telling his wife "she (the child) wants to sleep on your side… you’d better sleep on the couch tonight" Sick.

There is also extremely graphic violence perpetrated by Esther (killing a bird by bashing it with a stone, killing a nun my bludgeoning her head with a hammer on a snowbank) and witnessed by the family’s adorable, young biological daughter. I was not raised as faithful Christian, nor my husband, and if we were disturbed by it you can bet it was truly disturbing.

Not to mention the awful portrayal of orphan children—my husband said if we ever adopt a child, it will have to be an infant…. I wonder how many other people feel this way after seeing Orphan? This movie is not for Christians. It does not glorify Christ, and does not redeem the time. I wish I could erase it from my brain. Will definitely check reviews from now on before renting a movie!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Cathy T., age 37 (USA)
Negative—Ultimately this film contains many factors that are offensive-very in your face (lacking any nudity) sex scenes, fairly bad language, and heavy violence that leaves nothing to the imagination. There is one aspect that was VERY disturbing about this film above everything else. There is a scene towards the end where Esther dresses in a very revealing dress, puts on heavy makeup and, while her adoptive father is drunk, begins her attempt to seduce him. We are given this depiction of what we believe to be this 10 year old girl trying to get her dad to have sex with her and for a brief moment, due to being intoxicated, we are made to believe he starts to fall for it. After that split second he snaps out of it and jumps off the couch, but none the less, that scene horrified me.

More and more movies are, little by little, normalizing the sexualization of children-we see it in films such as Lolita and American Pie where kids, be it high school age or younger, are depicted as these hyper sexual beings, which normalizes this idea in our minds. This film makes a short attempt at this. So on top of the objectionable “moral” elements, the storyline was typical and predictable with an ending that makes me think of the words of Solomon-"There is nothing new under the sun…" Save yourself the rental fee and the 90 minutes of your life and watch something else!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Angelica Wilson, age 24 (USA)
Comments from young people
Negative—This movie was really good. I went to go see it with my Sister and parents. I just have to warn you that there ARE some adult scenes. 2-3, touching, language, drinking, and violence. But over all it was an awesome movie. But I suggest that you don’t take kids 13 and down. Some 13 year olds could probably handle this and other maybe not. I like the suspense of the movie and the action/horror. There was also one seen when there little boy is looking at an Adult Magazine, you see nudity. You should probably wait until it comes out on DVD.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Morgan, age 13 (USA)