“Orphan: First Kill” is a prequel to the 2009 psychological horror cult hit “Orphan”. It’s a rather unexpected second feature that sees Isabelle Fuhrman reprising her role as Esther, the creepy and calculating adoptee who terrorized her foster family in the first film. Despite being 13 years older and this new movie taking place prior to the original, Fuhrman falls right back into Esther’s skin, bringing the character and all her devilish cunning back in a startlingly convincing way.
William Brent Bell directs this new installment with David Coggeshall handling the screenplay. It’s based on a story by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace, the brainchildren behind the first movie’s script. Fans of the original film might remember one particularly disturbing aspect of Esther’s background. More specifically, what happened to her family before she was put in the orphanage. “First Kill” gives us a first-hand dive into those events.
“Orphan: First Kill” may not convince us of the need for its existence, but it does provide fans of the 2009 movie plenty to munch on. At the same time, it’s undeniably silly and it doesn’t exactly start off on the strongest foot. But credit to the filmmakers who broadside us with a midway twist that I can’t imagine anyone seeing coming. It’s utterly bonkers and sadistic, but in a weirdly satisfying way it energizes the rest of the movie and makes this much more than just a carbon-copy of its predecessor.
Bell opens his movie with a prologue set in 2007. At an Estonian mental hospital called the Saarne Institute, Leena Klammer, the facility’s most violent patient, escapes. She assumes the identity of Esther Albright, the believed-to-be abducted daughter of a well-to-do American couple, Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen (Rossif Sutherland) Allbright. In Darien, Connecticut, Esther/Leena is ‘reunited’ with the Allbrights and their teenage son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).
From there, the movie borrows the model of the first film as Esther’s deranged game of manipulation really kicks in. It seems like she may have hit the jackpot. The Albrights are a big-money family who fly in private jets, live in a sprawling country estate, and even have a collection of Fabergé eggs lined across their living room mantel just to highlight their wealth. And to top it all off, the ruggedly handsome Allen immediately catches Esther’s eye, if you know what I mean (à la Peter Sarsgaard from the 2009 flick).
That sounds like a pretty copy-and-paste approach, and you’d think it would be a hard sell this time around since we already know Esther’s BIG secret from the previous movie (I won’t spoil it for those yet to see it). Also, there’s an undeniable silliness to the idea of a daughter being gone for just four years yet returning this dramatically different. Yes there’s a physical resemblance, but the weird personality, the ice-cold eyes, the 18th century dress code, the poorly concealed Russian accent. Are there really no question marks or red flags popping up for this family?
Enter that midway twist I mentioned. The movie answers all those concerns (to varying degrees of success) with a wild out-of-the-blue turn that jolts the entire story and sends it in a vastly different direction. It’s pure gonzo camp that doubles down on the nuttiness of its premise and gives the cast some warped yet wildly entertaining places to go. It’s especially true for Stiles and Fuhrman. Stiles has always been an underrated actress. It’s great seeing her get a role she can really sink her teeth into. Fuhrman is an unsettling force, but at age 25, it’s a little tougher to look like a convincing 9-year-old. But the movie pulls it off thanks to a clever mix of body-doubling, strategic camera angles, and an occasional splash of CGI.
Interestingly, the movie’s ending feels a little hurried and cheap. Yet at the same time, it kinda fits considering how zany this thing gets. And I can’t imagine them being able to take the series any further. Overall it’s hard to call “Orphan: First Kill” necessary, and in terms of series status all it really does is fill in a few holes. But who cares about all of that when we’re given something this much fun? Bell and Coggeshall have a field day bending the genre, and the small but game cast are all onboard. By the end, I knew I had been thoroughly entertained, yet I still sat wondering what on earth I had just watched. “Orphan: First Kill” is streaming now on Paramount+.