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 'Orphan' ("House of Wax"), the movie presents a serious face that hides a devilish grin.

The top-shelf actors Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard play Kate and her architect husband, John, who are blessed with two beautiful children and a gorgeous modern-rustic home.

After a third pregnancy ends in stillbirth, they adopt Esther to fill the void. Esther (embodied by 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman) makes for a terrifically creepy kid, with black eyes, old-world etiquette and a faint Russian accent that suggests a vampire, or the ghost of Rasputin. Kate eventually will discover the truth, though by then Esther will have cast her spell.

Where movies like "The Exorcist" (1973) sent a reassuring message to parents - don't blame yourself, blame Satan! - "Orphan" instead offers a cautionary tale. Kate's need to create the perfect family sometimes feels slightly unhealthy. As it turns out, Esther's grand plan isn't all that different.

At the St. Mariana orphanage, little Esther waits as patiently as a puppy. Esther knows a few charming tricks, like singing and painting. She's also quite handy with a match and some accelerant, though her adoptive parents won't discover that until it's too late.

That's just part of the story in "Orphan," a thoroughly enjoyable demon-spawn movie in the tradition of "The Bad Seed" (1956) and "The Other" (1972). It's a new addition to a mostly forgotten genre, one that flourished during the anxiety-ridden early '70s, when middle-class parents really did think their kids were possessed. Today's youngsters seem pretty docile (see the Jonas Brothers), which may explain why horror movies now exploit other fears like the environment ("The Happening") and torture (the "Saw" flicks).

Directed by Jaume Collet-SerraPLOT An adopted little girl turns out to be no bundle of joy.

CAST Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman.

LENGTH 2:00.

PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE Creepy good fun, with a standout performance from Fuhrman as the demon seed.

RATING R (intense violence, some gore, brief sexuality)

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