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Orphan

August 11, 2009

I have no doubt that Orphan was audience tested. It’s the way of things. Audience tested until the pips squeaked, most likely.

Is that good? My instinct says no, but what do I know? It might go against the grain for the purist cinephile, but it’s a fact to be sucked up that these things happen. I imagine there’s a website you can find, probably, available to the nerdiest screenwatchers, via some Freedom of Information agreement, that allows you to check what was looked for, expected, altered, gleaned and dropped after each screening. And all in the most excruciating detail. I’m not going to go looking for this assumed nit-pick palace of the anally retentive, I just bet it’s out there somewhere.

Anyway, documented or not, Orphan, I feel certain, will have suffered the process at some or several stages of its in-production life. And it seems to have done pretty well, considering. Checking them out this morning, I see that those old sticks Ebert and the Guardian’s very own Philip French were impressed: myself, having pretty much zero foreknowledge, I went along last night to see what was what.

‘You’ll Never Guess Her Secret’ goads the poster, the tagline slung beneath a creepy portrait of a straitlaced freak-child. Hmm. And, Uggh. Telling us there’s a twist, or a revelation, tends to slew a movie’s balance in my opinion, so much that you’re sat there just waiting for it to come along. It also coaxes the audience in to some sort of battle of the witless that no-one will really benefit from. And that’s exactly what happened.

Orphan tells the story of, you guessed it, an orphan, planted cuckoo-like into an existing family. Stuff happens and then a dreadful secret is revealed.

I don’t mean to be dismissive, I really don’t, because I think it’s a movie that deserves an audience and has something to offer. It has good people in it (Peter Sarsgaard, Vera Farmiga, Karel Roden), all of whom have done excellent work in the past; it has an eye-popping attention-grabbing central performance by the unknown (to me) Isabelle Fuhrman; and, endearingly, it tries hard, although not always with success, to ape a certain verisimilitude that you might find in a great deal of Indie cinema, coming across with the occasional sense that this is oddly European in flavour. All the better for that, of course, as with it’s wintry setting and infant-centric casting you might with some confidence hope you’re back in Låt Den Rätte Komma In territory, or perhaps even knocking on the door of El Orfanato. Well, let’s not carried away. The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, may be Spanish but his back catalogue stretches as far as Goal II and the Paris Hilton starrer, House of Wax. He’s upping his game, admittedly, but I’m not about to claim, nor would I want anyone to think, that his is a brave new voice of cinema. He does a good job, but his actors do a better one, let’s leave it at that.

But it wasn’t good enough for some people, if not pretty much everyone in the theatre. Was I the only person in the fifty-strong crowd who wasn’t talking or commenting or, at several points, laughing heartily? Actually, maybe I do my peers a disservice there, as the staff seemed aware of the disruption and appeared three or four times. Silly in places, and rather too challenging in others, perhaps, but I have seen a lot lot worse (Prom Night springs to mind, seen from pretty much the same seat) lapped up more readily than Orphan managed last night. I guess there are rather too many dynamics to corral with regards to crowd reactions, too many confounding variables to take into account, to get a decent answer to that one. The rowdiest group all appeared to know one another (they left en masse), and so I wondered if they had all just decided – flocking style – to hate the film, and that this had affected most everyone else.

Maybe. Who knows. But I do believe that taunting a bunch of 16 year olds with ‘You’ll Never Guess Her Secret’ and then producing a slightly wordy, slightly issue-y (alcoholism, child sexuality, still-birth) movie that doesn’t dispatch half-naked cheerleaders at regular intervals, to be chewed over with a modicum of thought whilst also being perhaps darker than expected, is going to make people jump one of two ways. That happened last night.

As an audience test, then, as a test by this audience, Orphan failed, but I don’t believe the movie can be held entirely to blame.

On leaving, a young lad in front of me was decrying the film to his pals as the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen. As he did so he was struggling with his jeans. They’d clearly ridden up over the last two hours and he needed to baggy them down to show off just the right amount of underpant and arse crack. I’m a silly old fart: perhaps I shouldn’t try to understand and explain what’s ridiculous and what’s not.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. ono no komachi permalink
    August 21, 2009 7:33 am

    Oh dear god, the ass-hanging-out thing is guaranteed to render me apoplectic whenever I see it. I always want to put on an Edith Evans voice and say “Young man, kindly hoist your waistband to an acceptable level!” I saw a boy the other day, who I’m sure was showing more above the waistband than was left below the waistband. Maybe the next big thing will be to wear just chaps so that everything can hang free.
    Great review, by the way. I might be choosing between this and Moon for this weekend’s viewing: though I think Moon might just win it by a nose.

  2. August 21, 2009 9:23 am

    I think Moon probably should, if I’m being honest, ono. Not that Orphan doesn’t deserve an audience, but Moon has more to it, by a fair margin.

    Thanks for stopping by…!

  3. August 24, 2009 1:49 pm

    I’m curious to see Moon, I was wondering about this but I think I’ll pass. Intelligent SF, hell SF that tries to do anything interesting at all is rare stuff. Dull horror, not so much.

    As for the jeans, eh, it’s a fashion. It looks idiotic, but if we can’t look like idiots when young, when can we? Later on people are even less forgiving after all.

    I’m not sure it would be a good thing if at 40 you could look at photos of yourself at 20 and think “what a sensibly dressed young chap I was”.

    Hm, chap, you’d never guess I’m reading Wodehouse at the moment…

  4. August 24, 2009 1:58 pm

    I’m an old git, at heart…but you’re probably right. And spot on about the Ruthless Culture thing, too; the coincidences are quite eyebrow-raising. Coincidences, only, but nevertheless quite notable.

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