Tuesday, July 28, 2009

there’s something about esther

here's a clip of my story on "orphan", which appears on the philippine star today:

this is the link: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=491087

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Little orphan Esther
by Raymond De Asis Lo
LA Correspondent

There’s something wrong with Esther. So goes the tagline for Warner Bros’ latest horror-thriller Orphan which opens in theaters today.

And I know what’s wrong with her. Nope, I am not telling you anything. I was told to keep it a secret and I think it is better we keep it that way — or Esther might get mad. Wicked, eh?

The Philippine STAR was invited to the junket for Orphan over the weekend. The screams at Friday night’s exclusive screening for the press were so loud and unstoppable during the final act of this terrific and engaging thriller from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, that I found myself screaming along with everyone. It was so scarrrrrry!

“The script was fantastic. I was very surprised by the level of depth of the story and the characters,” director Jaume tells this writer during the round table interviews at the Luxe Hotel in Bel-Air. The story was developed by Appian Way Productions, which is partly owned by actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Orphan is that particular movie that leaves everyone in the audience breathless. The clever twist is something no one will ever foresee — and it’s not a rip-off!

Writer David Leslie Johnson started with the 10-page story treatment that calls for a fresh take of the evil child genre (think of The Bad Seed or Omen) and he came up with the jaw-dropping reveal in the end. “I came up with the twist at the end, the secret, and sort of worked backward from there,” he says.

The story begins with a mother experiencing a late-term miscarriage. The tragic loss of her would-be daughter would leave her depressed and estranged from her husband and two young children. To help her cope with depression, the family adopts a girl from a local orphanage but little did they know that Esther, the child they adopt, is not who she seems to be.

For this kind of movie to succeed, only the best actors had to be hired. Newcomer Isabelle Fuhrmann was hired for the lead part of Esther. She was terrifyingly good! Acclaimed character actors Peter Saarsgard (Kinsey, Boys Don’t Cry) and Vera Farmiga (The Departed, The Manchurian Candidate) portray John and Kate, the couple who unsuspectingly adopts Esther.
The couple was drawn to Esther because of her seeming maturity beyond her age. She was placed in the orphanage after she lost her previous adoptive family in a house fire. She paints, she sings, she is someone any would-be parent would want for a daughter — or is she?
“This story puts a new spin on the genre. It’s not just bloodletting; it’s got horrifying events happening to real people with real problems,” says Vera who describes her character as someone with a “gaping hole in her womb and in her heart, but she’s trying to persevere and heal her marriage and her family.”

Her character Kate is also a gifted pianist but her son couldn’t care less and spends more time playing with his guitar hero video game than listening to her play while her daughter is very deaf. When she meets Esther, she sees someone she could become a mother to.

To prepare for her part, the talented actress, who is also part-Ukrainian, spent time on grief websites by reading stories of women coping with the loss of their babies. “It’s no small feat to put back the pieces of a broken heart after experiencing the agony of miscarriage. The ache is desperate, that of an empty womb and empty arms.”

Her character is the first to see the signs that something is wrong with Esther.

Peter, noted for his range and ability to convey complicated characters, plays Kate’s husband, John, who finds himself continually drawn to Esther’s charm even after Kate tells him otherwise. “He is kind of a peacemaker,” says Peter of his character. “He is frequently trying to put things in perspective, and bringing everyone together because he thinks Kate is taking things too seriously and seeing things that aren’t there.”

Peter and Vera are friends in real-life. They share the same management company and both expressed their thrill at working together for the first time. “We have an interesting dynamic,” says Peter. “It’s funny when I think of some of the other projects that we could have done together.”

The actor was persuaded to join the project partly because he wanted to work with Vera and because he was impressed by how the director wanted to cast the parts. “I remember I had lunch with him one day after I got the script,” he recalls. “I was interested but I wasn’t sure about it; I was very attracted to it because Vera was attached to it — and the fact that he isn’t interested in populating it with the biggest possible names that he could get which is how they usually go about casting it.”

“I just thought that it was being made in a very specific way,” adds Peter who is marking his first foray into the horror genre.

The impressive casting elevates this movie above your usual horror genre. The actors, noted for their dedication to their craft, invested heavily on making their characters as credible and believable as possible. Peter, for instance, made his character a smoker (which is already considered a taboo trait in movies) after studying his character to give him a little wild streak while Vera infused hers by adding subtle tricks while playing the piano during one emotional scene which sadly ended up getting cut in the editing process.

Sign language was another factor the actors had to contend with. “I grew up speaking a couple of languages,” says Vera. English is not her first language so when she was learning the language as a child, she was forced to articulate every word which she says is similar to learning sign language.

The sign language, which plays like a dance during one of the happy scenes at the start of the movie, will play a crucial part later on.

I wish I could tell you more about Esther. Yes, she’s cute. She’s smart and charming. But my lips are sealed until the movie opens today.

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