Following in the crazed-kid tradition of "The Bad Seed" and "The Omen," "Orphan" features 12-year-old actress Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, a Russian demon child adopted by an affluent American couple, John and Kate (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga), to replace the loss of their stillborn baby. Though they have two beautiful young children, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and Max (Aryana Engineer), the beleaguered parents are torn with grief over the miscarriage. In fact, Kate is fighting alcoholism and John has had an extra-marital fling.
Perusing the pre-teens at the St. Mariana orphanage, John and Kate encounter Esther who, while a bit strange with her black choker collar and Bela Lugosi accent, manages to lay on enough sweetness and charm to enchant the couple into bringing her into their household. Head nun Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder) has nothing bad to say about Esther, sending the child into adoption heaven with virtually no red tape.
After a little girl's near-fatal "accident" in a playground and the brutal demise of Sister Abigail, Kate begins to have her doubts about the innocence of Esther. But, Peter takes more convincing, a lot more.
Under the workmanlike direction of Jaume Collet-Serra ("House of Wax"), "Orphan" would be a relatively routine addition to Hollywood horror fare, except for Ms. Fuhrman's near-perfect portrait of creepiness and a sickerthan usual final shock-plot twist.
If you are seeking an effectively disturbing mid-summer nightmare, "Orphan" may be the movie to keep you tossing, but unfortunately turning off to the vital necessity of adoption.