Friday, July 24, 2009

Asian Horror: Coming to America In Orphan

So far this year I’ve loved four domestic films. They've all had the courage to play with convention and form, to be American in their parameters but daring, indulging in their urges to draw outside the lines. The first three were the Seth Rogan vehicle gone darkly awry, Observe and Report, the Romantic Comedy tweak/update 500 Days of Summer and the Iraq War procedural The Hurt Locker. The last and most surprising, which I’m writing on following a screening, at the only place to see a horror movie opening night, the UA Court Street Stadium 12, is Orphan.

Orphan has been undersold as a paint-by-the-numbers, toss-off horror meant to draw in the time honored inner city youth demographic opening weekend then retreat quietly into the primordial goo. It's helmed by a young director and virgin screenwriter, but Orphan is far more, a game changing horror that is willing to abide by the existing American rules, with melodrama piled upon melodrama, at times unnecessarily, and a boat load of cheap thrills, but delivers with a great cast, a killer premise complete with an unexpected twist and a gleefully fucked up sense of humor.

Orphan stars almost famous Peter Sarsgaard and The Departed’s Vera Farmiga in its marquee roles but the obvious standout is 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman playing the title character. In a world where Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin can get a nomination for being a goofball I’m fully confident that anyone whose seen this film will concur that if there was a just system that didn’t turn its nose at summer fare such as the unpretentious Orphan this kid would be in line. I can’t really delve into the greatness of this film without spoiling, suffice to say I wouldn’t be posting on it with an early Saturday morning alarm set without purpose, this is a movie to get excited about.

What it really signals is a maturation in American horror others would be wise to sit up and take notice of. With the market set to be overrun with remakes of mindless slasher staples Orphan is an original work that employs psychological warfare over easy supernatural chills. It takes pride in its heritage but is clearly interested in exploring new and previously taboo depths, unwilling to choke on the dust of our more adventurous Asian counterparts (See: The Japanese Audition, Korean Old Boy). In other words go see Orphan before you’re forced to lie about being on the bandwagon from the beginning in five years.

1 comment:

tray said...

Orphan was pretty horrifying but I can't go there with you as far as its actually being a good or great movie. Basically what I learned from Orphan (oblique spoiler alert) is that one should mistrust slutty midgets from foreign countries, as they will fuck with your happy, wealthy, WASPy nuclear family. Although that's okay to the extent that wishy-wishy liberal types getting killed off is involved. Being a proudly misogynistic conservative of more than minimal ethnic prejudices myself, I should love the movie, but something about (a) the insidiousness of the message (you clearly didn't even notice it), (b) the skeevy way it wants to have its moralizing cake and get weird creepy pleasure out of midget/man sexual tension on the side really bugged me. And as a matter of just pure movie mechanics, the twist is more of a joke than anything really clever or exciting. It was a scary movie though, no doubt about that. I'd give it, I don't know, 2.5 stars for the fear factor, the creepy little girl, and Vera Farmiga.