As seen at the Montreal HorrorFest
The Orphan Killer (let’s be clear here, the killer is an orphan, not a killer of orphans . . . uh, though he does kill one fellow orphan as a child) is a solid effort by Matt Farnsworth, a director who bears watching. It does a lot with what must have been a modest budget.
Story-wise the film draws much from Halloween—but more Zombie’s version than Carpenter’s, which is a terrible thing in a Halloween remake but an okay thing in a wholly original work. Marcus and Audrey Miller watched their parents get murdered. Following the tragedy, Audrey was quickly adopted, but Marcus, disturbed to a homicidal extent by what he’d witnessed, languished in the orphanage, nursing a hatred both for the nuns who punished him and the sister who—in his twisted mind—abandoned him.
The storytelling is a little rough, using both expository dialogue, which proves largely useless, as well as flashbacks to fill in the backstory. It’s nothing special, but I appreciate the effort to give the killer a defined past and solid motivation.
Diane Foster does a good job as Audrey, when called upon to do so. She is still troubled by the memories of the murder of her family. That she is still affected by these experiences makes it all the more believable that Marcus, saddled by psychopathic anger and a deep sense of abandonment in addition to the ghosts of his parents, might turn homicidal. However, the third act is devoted almost exclusively to a dull, drawn-out torture scene with Foster given little to do besides scream, cry, and moan in agony. She can clearly do more and should’ve been given the opportunity to prove it.
The film features some decent production values for an indie project, including helicopter shots, but these are often overused to ill effect. Farnsworth certainly loves those helicopter shots of people driving around, for example. He even cuts in the middle of a fairly intense scene to show us Audrey’s cop boyfriend driving to her rescue for what was probably no more than a minute or two but felt like ten.
Marcus spends most of the movie grunting and groaning like Chewbacca but—here’s the surprise—this masked Slasher talks, which is interesting. Unfortunately, he sounds like a cross between Tom Hardy’s Bane and a pro wrestler, which is not interesting.
The movie’s gotten quite a bit of word of mouth and online press thanks to the killer’s look and the film’s kills. Marcus Miller does look pretty cool. The tie is an honestly nice touch and the mask is suitably creepy—though its provenance is rather ridiculous.
The kills are pretty hardcore—for an American Slasher (it was banned in Germany, for some reason). But, compared to France’s Inside or Indonesia’s Macabre, they’re hardly eyebrow-raising (I can only guess those two films are also banned in Germany). The gore effects are well executed, for the most part. At times, though, Farnsworth would have been better off taking a less-is-more approach, not showing so much. For example, a head-stomping scene lessens its effect by showing the smashed head, which looks more like Cast Away’s Wilson with a slow leak than it does a crushed human skull. Another kill includes a rather unfortunate shot of what is obviously a nun mannequin being hammered by an axe.
Overall, though, the film looks great. It’s well-photographed and the lighting is atmospheric without being overly stylized. The editing is passable though occasionally jumpy. The film’s greatest weakness is that it contains little tension and zero scares. Of course, it may not be that kind of film. It’s clearly more about being cool, being hardcore, than it is about being creepy or suspenseful. On that front it kinda-sorta succeeds. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it strives to push a few envelopes, but it never really breaks any new ground, relying too much on torture and giving us mostly more of what Rob Zombie has in the past but on a smaller budget, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, albeit a somewhat dubious one.
I’ll give the film an extra point for doing what it did with what little money it had. But, given the following it has accrued through social networks (the thing has nearly 150 thousand likes on Facebook), I can’t help wondering what the big deal is.
It’s worth watching, especially if you’re into pain as entertainment, but it’s far from a must-see.