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      Orphan Review

      Orphan poster


      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Approximately nobody saw the indie thriller "Joshua," in which Vera Farmiga - she of the fascinating Modigliani features and the emotional intensity that goes to 11 - played the unraveling mother of a malevolent 9-year-old hellbent on familial destruction. Two years later, on a bigger budget and a fancy set of producers including Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio, here's "Orphan," in which Farmiga plays the unraveling mother of a malevolent 9-year-old hellbent on familial destruction.

      With a twist! There's a surprise ending, followed by several bonus endings, and we're not giving anything away in noting that the film's titular adoptee has more lives than Chucky. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (who made the "House of Wax" remake) says "when" only after his cup runneth over and his movie slides past the two-hour mark. That's on the longish side for a handsomely mounted but joyless exercise in making people jump. At least the cast lends it some class. And by the time Farmiga's character finally lets Little Miss Missy-Miss have it, audiences may well respond like good little multiplex Pavlovian dogs with a nationwide chorus of YEAAAHHHH! KILL HER!

      Adoption advocacy groups, including the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, already have expressed their displeasure at the film's premise and marketing hooks, which make it appear as if foreign adoption = carnage. Perhaps thriller advocacy groups can join them in their protest. The script by David Leslie Johnson goes for the gravity along with the bloodthirsty. Kate (Farmiga), a recovering alcoholic, lives in a swank secluded rural Connecticut home with architect husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) and their two children. The younger one (Aryana Engineer) is deaf, and sweet, so her fate is never in doubt. (This genre's not about subverting expectations; it's about letting the deaf girl live.) A year earlier Kate delivered a stillborn daughter and the loss has left her fragile. At the local orphanage overseen by kindly Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder), the couple is drawn to a raven-haired loner named Esther. This slippery china doll is played by Isabelle Fuhrman with the sort of unearthly composure that screams "you should've picked the other one."

      Assuming your psycho-pigtailed-killer memories extend back as far as "The Bad Seed," Maxwell Anderson's play filmed by director Mervyn LeRoy in 1956, "Orphan" may remind you of the icon made famous by Patty McCormack. Though Fuhrman holds the screen, I wish Collet-Serra's film was half as entertaining. This is basically "The Omen" without the triple-6 birthmark. Dutifully, each scene in "Orphan" sets up the possibility for Esther to suddenly appear here or there or anywhere, wielding a hammer or a gun or a razor blade. Or maybe not: Often, the scare music swells, the camera creeps in on the open fridge door, for example, and Kate suddenly closes that door to reveal ... nothing. No one there. Fooled ya!

      Things don't dip into offensiveness until quite late, when little Esther dolls up like a vamp and tries to seduce a drunken Sarsgaard. The scene, like the fridge routine, is a fooler; things aren't what they seem. The secret alluded to in the trailer may be enough for Collet-Serra's film to get by. And advocacy groups are right to worry: Adoption of psychotic Estonian orphans surely is in for a decrease.

      MPAA rating: R (for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language)

      Running time: 2:03

      Opening: Friday

      Starring: Vera Farmiga (Kate); Peter Sarsgaard (John); Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther); CCH Pounder (Sister Abigail); Aryana Engineer (Max); Jimmy Bennett (Danny)

      Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra; written by David Leslie Johnson; produced by Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran and Leonardo DiCaprio. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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