Retro Steady Cut: Orphan — 10 Years Later Unquestionably Disturbing Horror

July 24th marks the 10-year anniversary of the premiere of the unquestionably disturbing horror, Orphan. Attentively disconcerting, Orphan delivered a refreshingly original concept that challenged audiences pre-conceptions over the course of the movie. Although relatively cliché with its horror tropes and scare tactics, the plot of Orphan deceitfully unfolds into an intriguingly complex story. Albeit greeted with controversy, actress Isabelle Fuhrman was critically acclaimed for her performance as the conniving adoptee Esther.

Orphan tells the story of John and Kate. After the devastation of giving birth to a stillborn child, they decide to fill the void in their life by adopting a daughter. Visiting their local Orphanage, John is drawn to one child, in particular: Esther, a sweet, educated girl with a talent for the arts. Joining the couples existing children, Max and Daniel, Esther struggles to feel at home, constantly testing the waters to gauge each family member’s boundaries. It is not long before Esther uses her newfound knowledge to manipulate her new parents and siblings accordingly. Kate and John soon learn that Esther certainly isn’t the kind, gentle soul they thought they were inviting into their home.

Before Orphan hit the big screen it was already being snubbed and rejected due to it’s a controversial approach to the subject of adoption. Like many movies that handle delicate social topics, it is not surprising that Orphan managed to ruffle a few feathers along the way to success. According to the Adoptive Parent Community, Orphan was incredibly offensive and concerns were raised in fear of its contribution to negative stereotypes that exist surrounding adoption, especially the adoption of older children. Warner was quick to succumb to the building pressures of audience response when they cut the line “It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own” from the movie’s trailer. Regardless, Orphan is a fictional piece. I and other critics argued it should be treated as such, otherwise, there would be a ridiculous amount of themes and topics that could be considered ‘off the table’.

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This being said the controversy surrounding Orphan did wonders for its campaign (no such thing as bad publicity) encouraging audiences to satisfy their growing curiosity and see for themselves what all the fuss was about. Not only did the controversy sell, but the news of Fuhrman’s ominously creepy version of a little girl was something to behold. Isabelle Fuhrman took the horror scene by storm with her portrayal of Esther, delivering an unsettling and freakish performance that would make the hardiest of us feel uncomfortable.

Adding to this, Orphan‘s troubling appeal can be found in the unnatural combination of mature themes and child subjects. Those who have seen the movie can confirm that the unrequited love present makes for some of the most uncomfortable and amoral scenes in modern horror history. Unconcerned with the righteousness of her actions Esther’s character is the definition of promiscuous greed, an unnerving trait for a child to possess. The entire cast is formidable in their delivery as the audience revel under the weight of Esther’s influence on her newly found family. Provoking and sinister, Esther has undoubtedly made a place for herself on the list of Horror’s most disturbing child characters.

Finally, I truly believe Orphan will continue to intrigue and unsettle audiences for years to come, given the script and themes remain inappropriately original and engaging. I particularly remember upon release the buzz that viewers felt as audiences left their screenings eager to share their surprise and disgust for Esther’s intentions. There is little doubt in my mind that viewers will be quick to recollect that feeling once more, taking themselves back to the experience of watching a movie that was genuinely tantalizingly new and fiendish. After 10 years it would be a good time to give Orphan another watch, and if you do let us know in the comments whether or not Esther still makes your skin crawl.

Maggie Potter

Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.

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