What I love about independent cinema is that stories and themes are not held back by a studio’s unwillingness to potentially offend its audience. Dialogue can be quite brash, and they take chances on things that work. What I hate about independent cinema is that these films may go over the top trying to offend us. Dialogue can be unrealistic, and many chances they take will fall short. A filmmaker that I’ve exchanged many emails with once told me “To love indie cinema is to be forgiving of what it is”.
It’s in this middle ground that the film Gore Orphanage sits. There are many things to like about this microbudget film: It relies heavily on kids, and the kids carry the scenes well. It’s characters are intriguingly flawed. There are some great scenes that first time director Emily Lapisardi handles flawlessly. However, there are many things that don’t work either. The dialogue can be quite clunky at times. The film stalls in its finale because of this. But, overall, Lapisardi will learn as she gains experience. There’s enough good here to give me hope that something magical can happen in the future for her.
Gore Orphanage is a period piece set in 1930s Ohio. The Depression is taking its toll on the country, and many families are forced to give up their children simply because they can’t take care of them. Nellie (Emma Smith) is a ten year old girl brought to Gore Orphanage after tragedy takes her family from her. Upon arrival, she is introduced to the orphanage’s owner Mrs. Pryor (Maria Olsen). Mrs. Pryor inherited the orphanage from her father, but she only uses it for the money it provides her. She regularly abuses the children physically and mentally (which is just heartbreaking).
Nellie immediately befriends Esther (Nora Hoyle) and Buddy (Brandon Mangin Jr) begrudgingly. She sees the strangeness of the home, its inhabitants, and keeps herself as distant as she can. The only character she really seems to truly like is assistant director Miss Lillian (Keri Maletto). Maintenance man Ernst (Bill Townsend) becomes the subject of “adventures” (as Buddy refers to them) when Nellie realizes that he may be preying on the girls of the orphanage. While avoiding the hulking man, the kids become closer and find friendship when it’s needed most.
There’s much to like Gore Orphanage. The kids do a pretty good job carrying the scenes they need to. Many were first time actors, and they were asked to do some very uncomfortable scenes. It was amazing to see these abused kids turn into abusers when it may cost them their dinner or gain favors from the adults. There is one heartbreaking scene that worked wonderfully as Mrs. Pryor had the children chanting “Nobody loves me! Nobody wants me!”.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie was an almost dream-like state when Mrs. Pryor leaves town for the day. The kids excitingly eat their breakfast, and the dark tone that torments the film lifts for just a moment. We see flashes of these kids being kids. They laugh. They play. They even entice Ms. Lillian and Ernst to play with them (which makes it feel more and more like a dream). All of this is done with some light piano music in the background. It’s handled wonderfully by Lipsardi, and it is as over as quickly as it starts when Mrs. Pryor returns. It’s these subtle moments (and others like the baseball player noping out the front door when confronted by its craziness and a character’s heartbeat audibly beating to the audience as she died.
Ironically, what I needed from Gore Orphanage was more scenes like this. I’m never a fan of explaining every little detail to the audience, and I’m even less of a fan if that comes from an emotional character. There’s a spanking scene, and while it distressing, there is way too much character exposition. It feels forced. It’s this “forced” feeling that carries through the finale. Yes. There are reveals and it becomes a slasher down the stretch. But this mood and these scenes could have stood on their own without dialogue. In fact, the dialogue hurts them. Flashbacks fill in some of the story, and they just break the tone even worse. A slow haunting piano piece (representing the opposite of the “dream” scene I loved) intertwined with current events and flashbacks would have worked wonderfully here.
The pieces to something magical are here, but experience will warrant growth. Gore Orphanage is worth a look this summer.