‘Orphan: First Kill’ Movie Review
It’s Orphan Time!
Depicting the events directly prior to the 2009 cult classic, Orphan: First Kill once again stars Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther (aka Leena), the psychotic dwarf posing as a 10-year old girl. Following her escape from a mental institution in Estonia, Leena begins posing as Esther, the long-missing daughter of wealthy American couple Tricia and Allen Albright (Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland). But when people around her begin to grow suspicious, “Esther” realizes her master plan may have backfired in some unexpected ways.
When Orphan first came out a little over a decade ago, it became a sensation among horror circles, particularly for its batshit crazy twist. I had serious reservations about the idea of a prequel, especially since the novelty of said twist (that being that Esther wasn’t actually a child, but a grown woman with a rare form of dwarfism) was what made the original popular. I was made even more skeptical when I saw that the film was being directed by William Brent Bell, whose previous efforts included 2016’s mediocre The Boy and its terrible 2020 sequel, as well as the abysmal The Devil Inside back in 2012. There was one more glaring potential flaw that put me off from the movie, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but suffice it to say, I went into this movie with a great deal of cynicism.
Well, I’m grown enough to admit that I was dead wrong. Orphan: First Kill somehow managed to defy all odds and deliver an incredibly entertaining movie. While the first film shrouded its first two acts in mystery before going off the rails (in the best way possible), this prequel lets loose right out of the gate. I’d actually say it can be compared somewhat fairly to last year’s Malignant. While I would consider that to be a superior film, this movie does share the same sense of unbridled lunacy that made it so entertaining. And much like both Malignant and the previous Orphan, this one also features a pretty wild twist. This time, however, it is revealed closer to the midway point, rather than the final half hour, which ends up reframing certain moments from the trailer that may have seemed contrived before. I genuinely didn’t expect what would eventually be revealed, and I’m pretty impressed whenever that happens. I love when horror movies just go balls to the wall and embrace the camp of it all, and Orphan: First Kill does this without hesitation.
Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance as the titular villain was a big part of what made the first film iconic, and it would be damn near impossible to have a follow-up without her. That said, her return is something of a double-edged sword, because it also leads to one of the film’s biggest detractors: Esther doesn’t look young enough. In 2009, Fuhrman was actually a child, but she has noticeably aged, and sometimes it can be a little distracting. The production insisted on not using digital technology to de-age her, and instead relied on trick camera angles and body doubles to make her look like a child. This provided mixed results, sometimes effective, sometimes not. However, this is honestly not as big of a deal as it may seem, because again, this is a consciously ridiculous movie. If we were supposed to take it seriously, this would take much more away from the movie, but since it’s pure camp, I honestly can’t be too upset about it. It’s just another wacky ingredient to the lovable weirdness. Julia Stiles is entertaining as hell in the film, and she seems to know exactly what kind of movie she’s in, essentially playing her role like she’s in a soap opera. Rossif Sutherland is probably the most grounded and sincere of the cast, and suitability so, as he is also meant to be the most likable and sympathetic character. Two other great supporting cast members are Hiro Kanagawa and Matthew Finlan. Kanagawa plays Detective Donnan, the officer in charge of the missing persons case (and one of the first people to be suspicious of “Esther”), and he pulls off the cool detective persona quite nicely. Conversely, Finlan plays Gunnar Albright, Esther’s older brother, and he is marvelously hateable. He has all the snobbery of a Trump heir and all the unhinged sociopathy of… well, Trump. Either way, he’s a very fun character to hate, and you eagerly await his demise. I only regret that he had but one life to lose.
From the get-go, Orphan: First Kill has great production design. We open in a classic, creepy insane asylum, complete with the requisite terrible security protocols. Most of the movie takes place in the Albrights’ lush manor, which is also a great set piece. The cinematography leans heavily into the gothic style that director Bell is clearly going for, and he and cinematographer Karim Hussein nailed it.
Orphan: First Kill throws caution to the wind and embraces the sort of gothic camp that endeared us to the works of William Castle. Despite the noticeable difference in age, Fuhrman slips back into the role of Esther perfectly, and the new cast is equally capable. It’s the rare prequel that matches its predecessor in style and fun, and it’s easily William Brent Bell’s best film to date.
About the Creator
I’m an actor and director of stage and screen. But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.
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