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ORPHAN – John Ottman

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Evil movie kids: don’t you just love ‘em? From Regan in The Exorcist and Damien in The Omen to those freaky twins in The Shining and anything starring Macaulay Culkin, the murderous minor has been a staple of the horror genre for decades, playing our worst fears and nightmares. The latest addition to the list is Esther, the protagonist of the film Orphan. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and the truly menacing 12-year old actress Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan tells the story of a typical husband and wife Kate and John Coleman who, having lost their unborn child, instead decide to adopt a young girl instead; subsequently, into their lives comes Esther, a seemingly angelic child from an orphanage. However, before long, alarming events occur, leading the Colemans to think that there may be more to Esther than meet the eye…

The music for Orphan is by John Ottman, who has scored films of a creepy nature before, and scored them very well. Unfortunately, Orphan will likely not be joining the likes of Apt Pupil, Gothika and Hide and Seek as a career-high genre effort. The problem with Orphan is the unexpectedly harsh electronic element, which dominates and overpowers Ottman’s orchestral writing to such an extent that, for the most part, you can’t actually hear what Ottman was doing. The opening title, “Orphan”, is a prime example of which, in which Ottman’s dark string and vocal and writing is completely ruined by a mass of bubbling, groaning electronics that take whatever brooding atmosphere Ottman was trying to create and ruins it entirely.

The only cues on the album which really retains any semblance of themselves are the lovely “Suite for Jessica and Max” and the dreamy “Silent Story/Max’s Theme”, which have some gorgeous idyllic string, piano and woodwind writing, and some lilting guitar elements, but are unfortunately in no way representative of the rest of the score. The piano – a plot device – forms a great deal of the bulk of the score proper, which Ottman accompanies with various eerie synth lines, glassy electronic textures, plus a few moments of harsh dissonance and atmospheric growling to underline the fact that all is not well with little Esther, as in cues such as “Destroying the Evidence”, “Something Nice” and the ear-splitting conclusive pair “Finding Max” and “The Cold Shoulder”.

Again, though, it always seems to be the electronic element of the score which dominates the sound palette, overpowering whatever subtleties or nuances Ottman was trying to create elsewhere. It’s a shame, because Ottman has always been rather good at this kind of thing, and for his efforts to be so obfuscated by cheap-sounding synth is especially disappointing.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Glory of Love (performed by Isabelle Fuhrman) (0:24)
  • Orphan (2:04)
  • Suite for Jessica and Max (5:27)
  • Opening/Labor of Love (2:35)
  • Not Your Average 9-Year-Old (3:59)
  • Silent Story/Max’s Theme (3:34)
  • Saint Marianas (1:32)
  • Destroying the Evidence (3:09)
  • Painting a Story/Esther Comes Home (2:51)
  • Something Nice (5:36)
  • Wet the Bed/Black Light (2:43)
  • Snooping (1:48)
  • Finishing the Job (3:08)
  • Finding Max (3:44)
  • The Cold Shoulder (3:07)
  • The Glory of Love (performed by Orphanesta featuring Krystle Warren) (2:49)
  • Orphan’s Revenge (performed by John Ottman vs. Mark “Dog” Sayfritz) (3:38)
  • The Glory of Love (performed by Jimmy Durante) (2:48)

Running Time: 54 minutes 56 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6981 (2009)

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