Sister Abigail: That a child could commit such crimes. It just flies in the face of everything I believe.
Orphan is a 2009 psychological horror film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by David Leslie Johnson, with its original story by Alex Mace. Production was split between two companies, one of them being Appian Way Productions, founded by Leonardo DiCaprio, who also directly co-produced the film, with distribution being handled by Warner Bros.
One of the few things on which pianist Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) agrees with her apathetic architect husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) is that a drastic change is needed to save their rocky marriage. With the burden of John's past infidelity, the emotional distance of their rebellious adolescent son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), and the helplessness of their deaf younger daughter Max (Aryana Engineer), the loss of Kate's third baby in childbirth breaks her sanity and drowns her in a sea of alcoholism.
In an attempt to find an alternative outlet of love meant for their stillborn child, the Colemans take in a mysterious 9-year-old Russian orphan called Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Max, in her innocence, is ecstatic to finally have a big sister; Daniel is less than enthusiastic due to the bullying he receives at school from her eccentricities.
Polite and creative, Esther initially has a sensitivity and charm that begins to thaw the frozen hearts of the Coleman couple... and that's when people around them start getting hurt.
This film's story does contain major twists, so beware of spoilers.
In February 2020, a prequel titled Esther was announced. Production was slated to begin in summer 2020, but was halted due to the COVID-19 Pandemic until November, when the prequel was officially renamed Orphan: First Kill. The film was eventually released in August 2022. Fuhrman reprised her role in the film, joined by Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland (Reign, Trench 11) as the parents of the family she joins.
Orphan contains examples of:
- Artistic License – Biology: During the final battle against Esther, Kate is suddenly plunged into the cold waters of a frozen pond, spends the majority of the following struggle submerged in it, and is left soaking wet in the middle of a snowy field once all is said and done. Still, she shows no signs of hypothermia (or even fatigue, for that matter), and is able to easily escape with Max.
- Asshole Victim: Two non-fatal examples; one fatal example.
- Brenda, the girl who bullies Esther on her first day of school, gets her ankle broken after Esther pushes her off the slide.
- Danny is a brat and a bully, which presumably provokes Esther's wrath on him more than anything. As far as he knows, Esther is just a sensitive, if strange, girl his family has adopted, and misses no chance to insult her or make her life more difficult. This eventually gets subverted when he finds out about Esther's true nature and tries to warn his sister, Max, about her to keep her safe.
- John. In addition to cheating on Kate several years ago and hiding it from her, he insists on believing Esther's word over hers, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Both of the above cause him to lose a lot of sympathy, even when Esther/Leena murders him during the climax of the film.
- Bittersweet Ending: Max survives and Kate successfully kills Esther, ending her reign of terror for good. But John and Sister Abigail are dead, and Danny's fate is left up in the air, with it being possible that Esther gave him brain damage when she unsuccessfully tried to smother him.
- Black Dude Dies First: The girl getting a broken ankle happens first, but C.C.H. Pounder is the first fatality.
- Blood from the Mouth: John while Esther/Leena kills him.
- Bring My Brown Pants: Danny, when Esther threatens to cut off his penis with a box cutter if he tells anyone what he saw in the treehouse."You pissed yourself."
- The Cavalry Arrives Late: After Kate calls them after learning the truth about Esther, the police arrive in record time only to find John stabbed to death and Esther missing.
- Cassandra Truth: In spades. Kate and Danny know something is very wrong with Esther, but have no evidence to back it up.
- Chekhov's Gun: Several. The revolver, Max's drawings of Esther's murders, Esther's ribbons on her neck and wrists, the treehouse lock, the frozen lake, the second bottle of wine, and of course, Esther's paintings.
- Creative Closing Credits: The credits roll over paint-splattered shots of Esther putting on her makeup, close-ups of her medical records from the Saarne Institute, white rose petals falling, and various paint-covered photographs being destroyed or burned, with the text switching back and forth from a standard serif font to a sinister purple "scratchy handwriting" font. Notably, John's name in the cast list has a heart painted next to it.
- Death Glare: Despite being The Cutie, Max is able to give good ones that rivals Esther herself, like when she refrains her from killing Danny. See for yourself◊.
- Description Cut: The therapist's description of Esther as a sweet, sensitive, reserved young girl is intercut with shots of Esther screaming and throwing a violent tantrum in the bathroom stall.
- Didn't Think This Through:
- Kate, who was already looking suspicious and like a lunatic, buys some wine and then tries hiding it somewhere obvious. People obviously end up thinking she is relapsing. Plus when John and the therapist confront Kate, she starts crying and whining that her children are the only reason she's sober and that she wants to kill herself when she thinks about what happened to Max. John points out how manipulative this sounds and it only makes her look desperate and crazy.
- John and Kate deciding to have wild, half-naked sex in the middle of the kitchen, with all three of their children upstairs, and then being shocked when one of them walks in on them. And all just a week after adopting a new child.
- John sees Esther has thrashed her room and finds out the hidden messages on her paintings. Then the lights shut down. Expecting him to grab Max and get the hell out of the house? Nope, of course he has to stand there flailing a flashlight like an idiot to give Esther enough time to stab him to death.
- Dream Intro: The film begins with Kate having a nightmare within a nightmare about her stillbirth.
- Drowning My Sorrows: After Danny is taken to the hospital in critical condition following the "accident" with the treehouse fire, John goes home alone and pours himself a bottle of wine. Esther takes advantage of him in this state by putting on a cocktail dress and makeup and trying to seduce him while he's drunk.
- Dysfunction Junction: On both the villainous and heroic sides. Esther is really a dangerous and violent thirty-three-year-old serial killer with a hormone disorder, while John and Kate's marriage is on the brink of divorce due to his past cheating, her past alcoholism, and the stillbirth of their infant daughter.
- Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Esther attempts to seduce John. When he turns her down, she stabs him with a kitchen knife and does not stop until well after he's dead.
- Failed a Spot Check: John doesn't notice Esther swiping Max's hearing aide.
- Freak Out: Kate when she finds John's dead body.
- Freudian Threat: Esther interrogates Daniel and threatens to castrate him with a box cutter at one point.
- Grief-Induced Split: Although Kate is a recovering alcoholic and her husband Jon is an adulterer, the stillbirth of their daughter is what drives their marriage to the brink and kicks off the plot of the film. After additional manipulation from their Replacement Goldfish Esther, Jon threatens to take the kids and leave.
- Horrible Judge of Character: The entire family except Danny, but special mention goes to John. Though to be fair Max is 5 years old and doesn't know anything better and Kate does realize over time that there's something wrong with Esther leaving the true Horrible Judge of Character to John who only realizes too late that Kate is right and that there's something wrong with Esther but too little too late.
- Idiot Ball: Having sex in a part of the house that's meant to be used by the entire family. As a result, they get caught by Esther.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Subverted when Max picks up the revolver that Kate had dropped earlier and aims it at Esther, but ends up shooting the ice they're standing on instead.
- Improbable Infant Survival: No children die in this movie, though it could've been averted in the original script:
- Esther would have killed a 7-year-old girl the Colemans had been planning to adopt, and she is found hung in a closet. This plot point is scrapped and instead Esther is the Colemans' first choice as adopted child.
- Danny was also supposed to die in the original script. In the movie, he nearly gets killed twice, but ultimately survives.
- In the final product itself, Brenda is among Esther's victims not to be outright murdered (although she suffers a leg injury).
- Irony: Esther's initial plan was to kill Kate, Danny and Max so that she can have John all to herself. Kate and the kids survive to the end of the film, while John gets an incredibly messy death for refusing Esther's advances.
- Jerkass: The boys that Danny hangs out with. It's not hard to see where he gets his bad attitude from.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Danny's inability to get along with Esther is justified likely due to something being not right with her that he senses, especially after witnessing her remorselessly killing a wounded bird with a rock.
- Kids Are Cruel:
- The girls who bully Esther at school, and Danny and his friends.
- Esther herself is a subversion, as while unimaginably cruel, she’s actually a 33-year-old woman.
- Logo Joke: The Warner Bros. shield and the Dark Castle, uhhh, castle are covered in glow paint to foreshadow Esther's secret layer of her paintings showing her sadistic side. Dark Castle is also missing the roaring gargoyle head from which the logo usually zooms out of; here, it zooms out of a castle wall.
- Mirror Scare: Both subverted and played straight. The first time Kate goes to the medicine cabinet, she closes the door to find nothing, the second time it's John standing behind her in a fake scare.
- Moral Myopia: The Coleman family's adoption of Esther as a Replacement Goldfish for a deceased stillborn child, when they are on the verge of divorce and recovering from infidelity and alcoholism, comes across as highly unethical.
- Mr. Exposition: Dr. Värava, who reveals to Kate and the audience Esther's real identity, age,and past.
- Mugging the Monster: Esther's big brother Danny coldly rejects her and the girls at school relentlessly make fun of her. They have no idea that they are messing with a psychopathic 33-year-old serial killer posing as a young girl.
- Nice Mean And In Between: Out of the children, Max is sweet and innocent (nice), Esther (although she is actually a grown woman) is violent and sadistic (mean), and Danny is a bratty Jerk with a Heart of Gold (in-between).
- Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Esther paints a seemingly innocuous picture of a large house. When she views it under a blacklight, a hidden layer of glow paint is revealed, showing that it's actually a painting of a house going up in flames, with several people dying gruesome deaths inside. She would know, because it was her fault.
- Not the First Victim: Kate discovers that Esther has killed two previous families after trying to seduce the husband, at the exact moment that she's doing just that to John. Only he (and Esther) die this time around, though.
- Outliving One's Offspring: After John and Kate's third child is stillborn, they decide to adopt a young girl named Esther...and that's where the trouble starts.
- Porn Stash: In Danny's treehouse. "Page 43 will change your life." "Hey, that looks like your mom!!"
- Precision F-Strike:
- Primal Scene: John and Kate have the brilliant idea to have sex in the middle of their kitchen. They are interrupted when they realize they have been walked on by Esther.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I'm not! Your fucking! MOMMY!!"
- Rage Against the Reflection: After removing her make-up, false teeth and ribbons that concealed her scars, Esther trashes her room and smashes the dressing table mirror, distorting her reflection as she removes the rest of her disguise.
- Rewatch Bonus: Esther doesn't want to go to the dentist. Because a dentist's appointment would expose the fact that she wears false teeth, and an examination of her real teeth would prove that she's not really a little girl.
- Russian Roulette: "Want to play?"
- Shout-Out: Kate's "I'm not your fucking mommy!" has been used in a horror film before.
- Sickbed Slaying: Esther tries to smother Danny with a pillow while he's in the hospital, after he fell out of the burning treehouse. He survives, though.
- Slasher Movie: The film is about an Enfante Terrible who is really a serial killer who kills anyone that gets in her way.
- Snow Means Death: Esther's killings of a pigeon and Sister Abigail both happen outside in the snow.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: A cheery rendition of "The Glory of Love", the song Esther sings, plays over a disturbing, UV paint-splattered credits reel.
- Tagline: There's something wrong with Esther.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!:Kate: WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM, YOU BITCH?! [slaps Esther]
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Sure, the first few results of Esther's psychopathy could be chalked up to coincidence. But John still refuses to believe Kate after Danny's treehouse mysteriously burns down, putting him in the hospital. When Esther just HAPPENED to be near it at the time. Must've been spontaneous combustion, right?
- Despite being one of the first to realize the problem, Kate also has a few.
- She doesn't think to call the cops sooner, despite the fact as she’s fairly quick to realize that there is something wrong with Esther. Why on earth would she even let her come to the hospital?
- She also doesn't handle her paranoia against Esther rationally and comes off whiny and demanding. Possibly justified a little due to her emotional instability.
- Wham Line:
- "The Saarne Institute is not an orphanage. It is a mental hospital."
- "The little girl in that picture is not really a little girl. She's a grown woman."
- You Have to Believe Me!: Kate says this to John trying to convince him that Esther is behind all their trouble that is making her look crazy.
- Your Makeup Is Running: After John rejects Esther's attempt at seducing him, she goes to her room and breaks down crying, ruining her makeup.
Lose a little, and always have the blues a little
That's the story of, that's the glory of love. ♫