Directed by: William Brent Bell
Premise: A prequel to the 2009 film. Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a psychopath whose body perpetually looks like a pre-teen girl. She escapes from a mental hospital in Estonia and poses as the long-lost daughter of a wealthy American family.
What Works: 2009’s Orphan was an effectively creepy evil child horror picture with a great third-act reveal (which the very premise of this prequel inevitably spoils). The filmmakers of First Kill realize they cannot recapture that surprise and so they go the other way, using the reveal from the original movie as the starting point. It’s a smart and successful way to revisit the material, using the Chekov’s Gun principle; we know Esther is a psychopathic killer and we’re waiting to see if her adoptive family will figure it out before it’s too late. The filmmakers have fun with the premise. First Kill is not camp but it does have a wry sense of humor and the filmmakers devise some surprises that punch up the second half of the picture. The film benefits from the return of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. Fuhrman is committed to the role and she plays Esther with a diabolical relish that makes her fun to watch. Her performance in First Kill is doubly impressive because of the passage of time. Fuhrman was just ten years old in the original picture and twelve years later she’s still convincing in the role. That is a testament to Fuhrman’s performance as well as the makeup and effects employed to maintain the illusion.
What Doesn’t: The opening portion of Orphan: First Kill isn’t so well produced. This sequence takes place in a dingy Estonian mental hospital and the scenes are underlit in a way that appears murky. However, the look of First Kill improves after that. First Kill doesn’t quite live up to its subtitle. This is a prequel but not an origin story. Esther is already a psychopathic killer and a large part of First Kill essentially reiterates the plot of the first movie. The film benefits from an unexpected reveal halfway through that upsets our understanding of who these people are and how they relate to each other. However, the film could have gone a lot further than it does, pushing the ideas and the tone into more extreme places. First Kill remains staid and never treads into crazy and dangerous places that would have been more horrific and challenging.
Bottom Line: Orphan: First Kill is a good time. It isn’t as creepy as the original picture but it does have its own share of thrills and surprises. The filmmakers find an approach that is fresh enough to justify the prequel.
Episode: #915 (August 28, 2022)