Written by: Matt Patti | August 18th, 2022
Orphan: First Kill (William Brent Bell, 2022) 2 ½ out of 4 stars
A prequel to director Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 film Orphan, Orphan: First Kill takes place two years before the original film’s events (be forewarned that this review contains spoilers for the original movie). When I first learned about Orphan: First Kill, I was very surprised. Not only was this film set to release a staggering 13 years after the original, but also Isabelle Fuhrman, the actress who played Esther/Leena in the original Orphan, is back in the same role as the murderous 31-year-old adult with the body of a child. Most shocking to me, though, was to find that this film is a prequel. I pondered exactly how the filmmakers could possibly make Fuhrman (The Novice), who was 12 years old when she played Esther in the 2009 film, appear even younger than she did back then. However, I can say with confidence that Orphan: First Kill takes a very different road than its predecessor, and I think this choice really helps the film to be fresh and invigorating, rather than repetitive.
In Orphan: First Kill, Leena (Fuhrman) escapes a psychiatric facility in Estonia and travels to America, masquerading as a wealthy family’s missing daughter named Esther. The family takes her in with open arms and is overjoyed to see their daughter, who has been missing for over four years. They understand that she looks a bit different now and even buy her accent as a recently developed one. However, when “Esther” starts displaying strange behavior and has trouble recalling certain past events, the family begins to suspect something might be off. Furthermore, Esther soon begins to realize she might be in for more than she bargained for, as the family holds a few secrets of their own.
Orphan: First Kill starts off exactly as I expected it to, with everyone Leena encounters underestimating her and believing she’s a child, leading to mass chaos and bloodshed. She is very intelligent, cold, and calculating, and it’s fascinating to see someone so small become such a force to be reckoned with. When Leena plays her role as the innocent Esther, I believed I knew where the film was going, and thought I was in for a rehash of the original. However, the plot takes a very unexpected, but welcome, turn that gives the audience something new and intriguing to behold. This decision also leads to great tension between many characters and a far different experience than the original film, which is an achievement.
There are a few things in the film that could have been better, however. First of all, my fears were realized in the fact that Esther does not look as much like a young child in this film as she did in the original. The makeup and CGI team did a decent job and likely did the best they could, but the conundrum of a 25-year-old actress playing a 31-year-old character that is supposed to look as if they are 9 years old doesn’t quite work, and upon close inspection of Esther’s facial features, one can easily tell she looks older in this film, even though it’s a prequel. Plot-wise, some issues present in the film include inconsistencies in characters’ motivations and actions; a very rushed, rapid conclusion; and a lack of genuine scares.
Orphan: First Kill is not as chilling as the first installment and can’t reproduce the mystery surrounding that film since the audience knows the twist now, making Esther not quite as creepy as she was in the original. However, thanks to a crafty decision by the filmmakers behind Orphan: First Kill, it doesn’t need to be. Director William Brent Bell (Separation) uses the audience’s knowledge of Esther’s secret to his advantage and crafts a plot that works well within those boundaries. The performances all impress and the characters around Esther have a great dynamic with her that makes this film work and keeps the audience invested. Instead of taking the easy route and just showing us more of the same, Bell takes a risk, pushing the narrative in a refreshing direction, and it pays off.