High-gloss thrillers rarely elicit gales of unintentional laughter. Orphan is so bats*** crazy that it wears you down just enough to accept the lunacy and enjoy the movie for what it is: every parent's worst nightmare, writ large in childish crayon. For more than one reason, adoption advocacy groups can stop worrying. Although it starts off calm and determined, Orphan eventually descends into that weird territory where it might be OK to talk back to the screen.
For the sake of the other patrons in the audience, I don't actually recommend doing so, but it's hard to keep your mouth shut when you see some of the outrageous actions presented on screen. And it's so serious! If every parent frets that one of their children might be a "bad seed," Orphan takes that fear and amplifies it in twisted ways, dramatizing a bad seed gone beyond evil, a character who is gleefully demented and wickedly scheming, far beyond human comprehension in one so little. Yet the opening sequences are so skillfully handled that the film builds up a measure of goodwill, which makes it eminently watchable and keeps it from becoming a complete disaster.
Nearly all of that goodwill is due to the persuasive performances of Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard. As Kate and John, parents of two young children, they are still grieving the loss of a stillborn daughter. After two years, John is ready to move forward and wants to adopt a child; Kate is less certain, but wants to please her long-suffering husband. Enter Esther, who they little suspect is the latest edition of the prototypical 'demon child from hell.'