By Owen Gleiberman
Updated July 27, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

To really get under your skin, a bad-seed horror movie needs a demon child whose dastardliness sneaks up on you. There’s nothing too subtle, however, about Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the 9-year-old orphan adopted by the Colemans (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard), who are out to put their tragic memories of a stillborn baby behind them. Pigtailed and freckled, Esther dresses like a frumpy Victorian doll, and she’s got a thousand-yard stare that could freeze rain. Worse than that, she was born in Russia and speaks with an accent that gets milked, in scene after scene, for its corny, junior-assassin malevolence. It’s as if the movie were saying, ”Forget all the Hollywood devil children you’ve seen — this one’s from the land of Putin!” Esther loses no time smashing animals, then people, with rocks and hammers, and even then she’s just getting started. She’s so extreme, in fact, that Orphan isn’t scary — it’s garish and plodding. Farmiga, as the recovering-alcoholic mother, brings the movie a dash of neurotic tension, but the only moments of audience catharsis emerge out of unintended hilarity, such as the creepily incongruous scene in which Esther tarts herself up into an evil baby-beauty-pageant Lolita. D+

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