ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022) is the sequel to the horror movie ORPHAN (2009), a film I enjoyed quite a bit.
In that film, parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Pete Sarsgaard) adopt a sweet little 9-year-old girl from Estonia named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), only it turns out Esther isn’t so sweet! Yes, ORPHAN was one of those “evil children” movies, made better by a knockout plot twist that turned out to be the best part of the movie! As far as plot twists go, it was one of the better ones.
ORPHAN came out in 2009, so it’s been a while. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is actually a prequel, as it sets out to explain how Esther first arrived here in the United States from Estonia, and since ORPHAN is famous for its plot twist, you can rest assured that there is yet another major twist in this movie, and on that front, it doesn’t disappoint. Even so, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL pales in comparison to the first movie.
Isabelle Fuhrman returns as Esther, the only cast member from the first movie to return, and it’s interesting because she’s no longer 9 years old, and so the filmmakers had to use lots of creative methods to make Fuhrman, now 25, look 9, including make-up, forced perspective, and a body double in some scenes. Of course, what makes things even more intriguing is the plot twist from the original film involved Esther’s age, making this role for Fuhrman here in 2022 even more of a kick.
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL opens in Estonia with a pretty standard sequence that shows Esther, whose real name is Leena, escaping from a mental institution and making her way to the United States, where after some research on her part, she pretends to be young girl named Esther who had been missing for four years, her story being that she had been abducted and taken to Russia, before ultimately escaping. She is reunited with her “family,” a very wealthy set of parents, Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland) and a teenage brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) in a luxurious home in Connecticut.
Allen is the most overjoyed of the three to have his daughter back, as her disappearance had pretty much ruined his life, and he hadn’t been able to cope with the loss. But now Esther is back, and all is well. Sort of. In the original film, sweet little Esther wasn’t as she seemed. In this prequel, it’s not only Esther, but someone else who isn’t as they seem.
As plot twists go, the one here in ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is pretty good. It certainly saves the movie, because before the twist, which happens about halfway through this one, the plot was in trouble. The family accepted Esther just a little too easily for my tastes, and I wasn’t buying it. Of course, the twist arrives and suddenly it all makes sense.
It was fun to see Isabelle Fuhrman return as Esther, but that being said, both her performance and the character lack the same edge they had in the first movie. And even with portraying Esther in a more sympathetic light this time around, she’s certainly not a character I’m interested in seeing a movie series built around.
Julia Stiles is okay as the colder mommy Tricia, but where that character ultimately goes is nothing more than a standard exercise in movie villainy. Rossif Sutherland, the son of actor Donald Sutherland, fares better as the dad who is overjoyed to have his daughter back. And Matthew Finlan is so very annoying as big brother Gunnar.
David Coggeshall’s screenplay while including a notable twist doesn’t really take it far enough. I liked the plot twist, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t do enough to affect Esther’s character. In other words, while the tables are turned on her, we don’t really get to see what that is really like for her. It’s all rather superficial. It also doesn’t help that this is a prequel, and so the audience knows that regardless of what happens, Esther is still going to make it to the family in the original film.
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL was directed by William Brent Bell, who also directed THE BOY (2016), a halfway decent horror movie, and its inferior sequel BRAHMS: THE BOY II (2020). While Bell does a good job with making Fuhrman look 9 years old again, the rest of the film is all rather average. It’s not scary, nor was I on the edge of my seat all that much. There was one decent sequence at a train station, but even that ended on a negative note. The print was also exceedingly dark, and even watching this on the big screen, there were many times where it was difficult to see what was going on.
I did like the subtext here, summed up by Gunnar’s line to Esther that this is America, and only his kind of people matter, and she doesn’t. So, watching Esther fight back and give these folks their comeuppance was mildly satisfying, but as I said, nothing that happens here is anywhere near as on point or as agonizing as it should have been.
While I really liked the first ORPHAN, this prequel, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is merely okay. It’s a standard chiller with a pick-me-up twist in the middle, but it never rises above the material. Instead, it just moves towards a rather unexciting climax.
Here’s hoping FIRST KILL will also be the last.