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Published: 6 August 2009

Esther, played by Isabelle Fuhrman, prepares to shock her new parents in the spine-chilling Orphan
It’s hammer horror from a not so perfect orphan

Directed by Jaume Collett-Saura
Certificate 18

A PALLID complexion and a Russian accent have been hallmarks of the horror genre since Boris Karloff stalked our screens.
This time, instead of it being a 6ft-plus monster, the focus of our attention is drawn downwards to a pig-tailed
nine-year-old girl. If this doesn’t sound scary, then wait to see what unfolds.
Orphan tells the story of a potentially perfect American family with all the trophies assoc­iated with American east coast, middle-class life. But a tragedy has turned this Brady Bunch into a household with issues.
Their home is picture perfect, with a pond out front, a wood with a super treehouse, and lovely open-plan rooms with varnished timber. At first it is used as a signal to the viewer that these are a high-flying couple. The Saab and Toyota 4x4 in the drive tell us that they are sophisticated (no ­American marquees here, thank you very much), and that for all their troubles and problems they are actually a bit of a dream couple.
But the architecture was chosen for another reason, as it gives the director some wonderfully quirky angles to point the camera through, and adds to the feeling that something nasty is lurking just out of camera shot – which it sometimes is.
Without giving too much away, we meet Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard). The pair have gone to an orphanage, having decided after the still birth of their third child that they should consider adopting. We gently learn that all is not well in the family home. The still birth has led to some horrible issues for Kate, and we also hear how she had a drink problem. Their youngest is deaf, and it seems it may have been caused when, as a tiny baby, the child fell in the pond out front and suffered a form of brain injury, although this is never really made clear.
Little by little, this idyllic set-up begins to appear far from idyllic. Then they meet a trophy child – well-mannered, well-behaved, with an incredible talent for art. The parents’ eyes light up. “Can you imagine, a child genius all of our own,” you can hear them say.
Without wanting to ruin an interesting twist, this oddly dressed little thing is not all she seems.
There are some flaky plot moments, which will make you groan, but things do unravel nicely to make them, with hindsight, not seem such oversights.
While this is not my cup of tea – I jumped a few times and don’t like chills down the spine much – it ticks many boxes. Not quite as freaky as the Omen, it draws on the same ­concept of a child who has something sinister about them. This plays on the idea that adults are there to protect ­children, and that as innocents they are in some way incapable of doing wrong.

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