This isn't a film out to win any awards at Cannes or Sundance. It simply wants to provide a thrill ride, and taken on its own terms, it's pretty darn good.

Parents of two Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) lose their unborn child and decide to give all the love they'd have given the new baby to an older child in need of a home. Enter Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a bright, artistic nine-year-old from eastern Europe and the perfect big sister for Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer).

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Well, for about two minutes. Esther is a little girl straight out of Royston Vasey, a sly wannabe daddy's girl, ruthless when it comes to protecting her new position in the family. But John doesn't see any of this, and doesn't listen to any of alcoholic Kate's warnings that something's wrong with Esther, meaning their two other kids - deaf toddler Max especially - are in mortal peril.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra proves a master of pace, beginning slowly and ratcheting up the tension, minute by minute, rendering any part of the cinema seat other than the edge irrelevant. Fuhrman - actually 12 - is astonishing as devil child Esther, giving us possibly the nastiest screen child ever. Seriously, some of the things she did had me on the floor. Bennett and Engineer, in their less flashy parts, ground the film. Sarsgaard is dreamy but his character has to be stupid for the story to work, leaving Farmiga as the emotional heart of the film. You hope she'll triumph in the end but worry that she's just too fragile to make her nest cuckoo-free.

Two hours is a long time on paper, but Orphan is absorbing from the off, and the length does allow richer characterisation. There are some corny false shocks, but enough proper scares that this is forgivable. Orphan has been sold as a spookfest, when it's actually a dark melodrama. But a thrilling one.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2009
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She was meant to complete their family; she may destroy it.
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Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer: David Johnson, Alex Mace

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Isabelle Fuhrman, Peter Sarsgaard, Jimmy Bennett, Aryana Engineer

Year: 2009

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Canada, Germany, France


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