dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
This is both a horrifying and silly flick. It would be easy to just say it’s a shit flick with the most ridiculous twist ending since the last time M. Night Shyamalan made one of his ridiculous movies. In fact it wouldn’t just be easy, it’d be downright accurate.
Still, I can’t dismiss it entirely. Approached as a genre piece, it’s unsettling and disturbing, as in, it achieves its ambition of creeping out the viewer, the viewer being me, in this case. This strangely-put together flick fits into that horror-thriller sub-genre about competent sociopaths, this time in the form of a nine-year-old child adopted by a nice family, who do what they do, infuriating the viewer because no-one except the main character can see what’s going on until it’s way too late.
Esther is an odd child adopted from an orphanage because a mother (Vera Farmiga) can’t get over the recent death of the baby she was carrying. This is conveyed to us, the viewers, right at the beginning in a horrific birth scene which is rendered as some kind of demented nightmare. Whilst the details aren’t considered literal, the loss of the child is, and we learn more details about spiralling depression, alcohol abuse and infidelity. All this occurs despite the fact that the two parentals have two other kids, an annoying teenage boy called Daniel, and the sweet, deaf Max.
Into this house they bring this strange girl who not a soul buys as being anything but the demented creature the promo posters depict her as being. Those posters were a stroke of genius, I have to say. The way that image was composed, by splitting and mirroring half of her face and reconnecting them at an odd angle, was far-more off-putting than probably most of the flick.
Ah, that’s probably not entirely true. There are plenty of instances of Esther murdering a whole bunch of people, and meting out violence to children, which of course is horribly disturbing.
Worse than that is the idea of the cuckoo’s egg: willingly bringing an interloper into one’s house whose intention is to displace (read: kill) the other nestlings, and eventually either replace the mother or kill everyone in a fiery inferno. As if it isn’t already hard enough for older kids hoping to be adopted…
The stupidity in the script begins in instances where horror-cliché violins start up in situations for which no-one in the movie, as opposed to the audience, could be expecting that they’re in a horror flick. It’s all well and good to set up those kinds of scare moments once the action begins, but before anyone including us knows what’s going on, it’s the height of absurdity to having people jumping around terrified. It's woefully incompetent direction, but then what do I know? I'm that guy commenting on shit on the internet, whereas these screenwriters and this director get to make movies and fuck Russian transsexual models in nightclub bathrooms.
The stupidity doesn’t end there. It doesn’t prevent the horror from being horrible, or stop the viewer from feeling that sick tension when you can see the protagonist, in this case being the mother, gleaning fairly quickly what’s going on, but being so ill-served and competently at that, by the psychopath in question that no-one believes the mother when she starts screaming about how evil Esther must be.
Of course, no-one expects either the Spanish Inquisition or Russian orphans being so utterly evil. Esther has to carry herself as both a sweet little girl and a monster in order to be able to work the split such a story needs to be vaguely believable. Now having written that, I realise it’s not really believable in any way, since she’s as ‘smart’ and manipulative as the story requires her to be, and then as clueless, stupid and careless as it needs her to be in order for the plot to kick along.
She’s not a believable character at all, but she is scary. Of course then the twist occurs towards the end of the flick, and what was unconvincing before becomes downright hilarious, sapping anything but the tiniest amounts of scariness out of the ending.
Still, there’s something downright terrifying about her. I say this as the father of a soon-to-be three year old daughter, there is something deeply unsettling about seeing a child expressing such murderous rage. Of course I’ve seen nothing like anything in this film in real life, and hope never to, but once you’ve seen a child enraged beyond a point that seems human, it’s hard not to be affected by such depictions. Seeing the emotions and frustrations of a child taken to an illogical and insane extreme is nonetheless frightening to me, no matter the extent of the insanity.
I’m sure anyone who has kids that are deeply mentally disturbed is never going to be watching a flick like this anyway, because surely they’ve got better things to do with their time, and they don’t want to be reminded of their own demon spawn, especially if the origins of their kid’s problems is themselves. Still, if they do watch it, I can imagine their shrieking trauma rendering them unfit for human company for a few hours after.
Nothing here should be taken as accepting any of the psychiatric or psychomalogical bullshit served up by this flick. Even if it was going anywhere near credibility in terms of depicting Esther’s state of mind, it utterly throws all that out the window with the ending. The ending also throws in something so mind-bogglingly amazing that it makes everything that came before it redundant. Not redundant in terms of it not still being horrifying, but redundant in that it asks us to believe that people were incapable of seeing something pretty obvious right from the start.
It’s almost so audacious that it made me laugh. Not audacious in the sense that it posits a brilliant explanation from left-field, but audacious in the sense that they thought any audience could accept it. It’s that fucking nuts.
It still wasn’t enough to completely dissipate the sick and tense feeling I had regardless of how ridiculous I thought it all was. That’s how they suck us in and fuck with our heads, by getting us to be affected by stuff, caught up in horrific trajectories and momentums, despite our protestations.
I don’t particularly think any of the acting except for Esther or the deaf daughter was that good in this flick, but it hardly matters. Vera Farmiga’s reasonable enough in the angry, sexual or grieving scenes, but she’s not that believable in scenes where she’s just supposed to be acting like a regular person who doesn’t yet know that her adopted daughter is a rampaging psychopath who wants to kill everybody around her. If there was a scene where she did laundry I don’t think it was that believable. I’ve seen her in other stuff and found her decent enough, but not here, for some reason.
For some other reason, this is the second film with Farmiga that I’ve seen recently where she has to deal with a demon child ruining her life, except in the other, even creepier flick, the bad seed is her own creepy suit-wearing son, who would have look a treat in one of them Village of the Damned movies. Joshua was that horrible other flick, not that it matters, it’s just that surely Vera Farmiga is getting sick of these kinds of movies? And, to add insult to injury, doesn’t it suck for her that her last line of dialogue in this flick is taken directly from the terrible Naomi Watts stinker The Ring II? It made as little sense there as it did here, even less, if that’s even remotely possible.
In short: stupid, stupid script, many horrific scenes, overall unsettling even if painfully dumb, but it is a horror flick after all. Don’t you wish all my reviews were that succinct?
I recommend it only to people who either watch everything, or want another compelling reminder of why a) they never want to have kids and b) they should never adopt any kids or spend any time with kids ever.
After all, children are our future. Unless we stop them now.
6 times it’s a wonder what a spot of make-up and some ribbons can do out of 10
“I have a special surprise for you, Mommy” – can’t wait to see it, Orphan.