"Orphan" is more psychological thriller than actual horror movie, but since we haven't had a full-throttle horror flick so far this year, "Orphan" can be an honorary one.
The delightfully creepy 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman has the title role. Vera Farmiga ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") and Peter Sarsgaard ("Rendition") star as the Colemans, a yuppie couple with two kids. Kate is a recovering alcoholic and John is an architect. They want a third child, but can't produce one, so they decide to adopt. Esther seems perfect for them " she's intelligent and mature for her age, and she bonds immediately with Max (newcomer Aryana Engineer), the Colemans' deaf daughter. Her relationship with their son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett, "Star Trek"), is more dangerous.
After a harrowing nightmare sequence, Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra ("House of Wax") builds the tension slowly, but ominously, through episodes and happenings that are not unknown in evil-child movies, but he handles this material well and uses it to lull us into thinking we know where all this is going. Hint: It isn't going there. Brace yourself.
All five of the leads are fine, with Farmiga doing most of the heavy lifting as the character who is emotionally the most edgy, and who first smells something rotten. Fuhrman is so chilling, I don't know whether to hope she doesn't get typecast, or that she develops into a great scream queen. The movie's violence is sometimes brutal, sometimes perversely psychological and, in one scene, extremely icky. You'll know what I mean when you get there.