Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Bad Orphan’ on Lifetime, In Which a Manipulative Orphan Makes Her Adopted Mom Lose Her Mind (2024)

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The Bad Orphan

  • Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Bad Orphan’ on Lifetime, In Which a Manipulative Orphan Makes Her Adopted Mom Lose Her Mind (1)
  • Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Bad Orphan’ on Lifetime, In Which a Manipulative Orphan Makes Her Adopted Mom Lose Her Mind (2)

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Lifetime’s new original title The Bad Orphan is a psychological drama film that brings to mind a bit of the story of Natalia Grace Barnett, whose adoptive parents utilizes her rare form of dwarfism to take advantage of her. While it’s hard to tell exactly who’s truly terrorizing whom in The Bad Orphan, the fictional film stars Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt and newcomer Chloe Coco Chapman as the drivers and instigators of the plot and action.


The Gist: The film opens with a house going up in flames and the owners blaming the damage on their foster daughter, who is perched on a swing set nearby, impassively regarding the destruction. That’s our first introduction to Gabby (Chloe Coco Chapman), a supposedly-8-year-old orphan born with special needs.

After presumably destroying the first, Gabby soon finds a new home with loving parents Jessica (Betsy Brandt) and Karl (Mark Taylor), and their accomplished teenaged daughter, Rhiannon (Eve Edwards). Jessica has been desperate to adopt a baby, but after their fourth attempted adoption falls through, she decides to take in a child who’s a little bit older, bringing Gabby into their lives. Born in Portugal with a form of dwarfism, Gabby lived through an earthquake that separated her from her birth parents and left her in the care of her grandmother until the older woman’s dementia forced Gabby to enter the foster system. After bouncing around homes for two years, she hopes that this will be the one that sticks.

While Jessica is initially thrilled to welcome Gabby into her sizable home, she quickly becomes disillusioned when the girl doesn’t fit into her family’s picture perfect life. Gabby doesn’t want to play with toys or get help bathing, and she seems to know more than a girl her age should. Is she just a gifted child, or is she a manipulative psychopath that’s much older than she claims to be? This is the question that increasingly eats away at Jessica and threatens to destroy both her sanity and life altogether.

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Bad Orphan’ on Lifetime, In Which a Manipulative Orphan Makes Her Adopted Mom Lose Her Mind (3)

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Bad Orphan definitely evokes 2009 psychological horror film Orphan, which also revolves around a psychopathic adult woman with a genetic disorder that allows her to pass as an elementary schooler so she can get adopted by an unsuspecting family.

Performance Worth Watching: Chloe Coco Chapman does a good job of being utterly unsettling as Gabby, while also making both Jessica and us viewers doubt our sanity regarding Gabby’s real age and intentions until the very end (and even then, she kind of keeps us guessing).

Memorable Dialogue: On the first day of second grade, a little girl rudely says to Gabby “You’re funny looking.” So naturally, Gabby replies,”You’re a bitch,” and then The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” begins playing. It’s quite the sequence of events.

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: The Bad Orphan seems poised to leave viewers with more questions than answers. From the start, Gabby is set up as a lying and suspicious character with tendencies towards malevolent action, manipulation, and outright lying. As a result, it’s difficult to ever truly be on her side, so the film takes drastic measures in order to match Gabby’s freak by having Jessica lose her marbles so completely that she puts herself into anaphylactic shock to turn people against Gabby, and even later ties Gabby up and shoves her into a kitchen cabinet to “protect” her family. And that’s not even mentioning when Jessica tried to smother Gabby, presumably to death.

The end of the film tries to trick you into thinking that Jessica was in the wrong (which she still kind of was in some ways, she obviously went too far) before leaving you with the image of Gabby smoking a cigarette and looking at herself smugly in the mirror, evidently sort of confirming that she was a “bad orphan” all along. But all of that just makes things more perplexing when you realize we never have her true age confirmed, like is Gabby an adult or is she a teenager? At one point Gabby tells Jessica she’s 15, but she has lied so much that it’s hard to believe anything she says by then.

There’s also weirdness with the age regarding how people treat Gabby. To us viewers, it’s clear that she’s older than 8-years-old, so it feels uncomfortable watching the adults, namely Jessica, talk down to her one minute and then accuse her of devilry the next. Also, why does no one reprimand her for reading V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic? That book is intense and definitely not meant for 8-year-old eyes. It just feels like no one in this movie can agree to stay consistent on how to treat Gabby (Is she a threat or misunderstood? Is she young or old? And how old is old?!), which ends up further muddling the story.

Lastly, The Bad Orphan seems to have a few issues with sound design. There are multiple instances where you can hear microphones brushing up against clothing and other scenes where the wind is loud to the point of distraction. I’m not trying to be nitpicky, but when there’s already so much going on with the plot, it just doesn’t really help to have anything else that could further remove you from this already implausible and slightly bizarre tale.

Our Call: SKIP IT! While there are a few moments that are sure to incite a reaction and grab your attention, ultimately The Bad Orphan feels unhinged and unfinished in a way that’s more confusing and disconcerting than satisfying or thought-provoking.

StreamThe Bad Orphan on Lifetime


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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Bad Orphan’ on Lifetime, In Which a Manipulative Orphan Makes Her Adopted Mom Lose Her Mind (2024)
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