Orphan was a movie I never expected to get a sequel or prequel. It was a serviceable horror flick that does not really stand up to any noticeable scrutiny, but had enough good kills to make it worth the watch. But now, over a decade later, director William Brent Bell is serving up Orphan: First Kill, with the murderous Esther Albright (Isabelle Fuhrman) back, giving audiences the story behind how she ended up in the events of the first movie. Despite some interesting kills, and some good performances, this is a movie that is best left for die-hard horror fans only.
Orphan: First Kill wastes no time introducing us to Leena (Esther’s real name), with her locked away in an Estonian psychiatric facility showing off her devious intelligence and skill for killing. With Anna (Gwendolyn Collins), the new tutor at the facility, meeting Esther for the first time, the film gives a taste of how devious she really is. From the first minutes meeting Esther, it all plays in her plans to escape the facility and find a new life away from her troubled past. With bodies stacking up, she forms a plan to find a home in America, posing as a long-lost daughter of the Albright family.
Hiding the fact she is really a 30-year-old homicidal maniac, Esther is quickly collected by Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles), the matriarch of the family, and introduced to her new family. It seems at first that everyone from father Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland) to son Gunnar Albright (Matthew Finlan) accept the story of the long-lost daughter, and embrace her in spite of the red flags, but all is not as it seems. Even the most warm and accepting families hold secrets, better left forgotten.
There is a lot to find disturbing Orphan: First Kill. From the Cuckoo-in-the-nest premise to the performance by Isabelle Fuhrman, Esther is a character that feels uncanny throughout the runtime. Due to the fact the film is releasing so far from the original movie, there had to be a fair amount done to make now 25-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman feel like a murderer stuck in the body of a young girl.
“Orphan: First Kill is without a doubt a better horror movie than the first instalment of the series.”
With her no longer a child actor, there was a healthy mix of CGI, digital effects, body-doubling and trick camera angles to bring the character back to the screen. Despite how much was needed, these efforts manage to make Esther always feel out of place in the American home she finds herself in. She is like a girl trapped in time, unable to adapt, but with a wealthy family that is so desperate to believe that they look past the many issues.
Orphan: First Kill is without a doubt a better horror movie than the first instalment of the series. The tension and brutality of Esther is put on full display, with her even becoming somewhat sympathetic as the film runs on. Isabelle Fuhrman is electric in her performance, bringing the ruthlessly evil imposter to life in a way I did not think possible. Even beyond the family, there are strong performances across the board, including a great minor role by the great Hiro Kanagawa as Detective Donnan.
Even with so many things going for Orphan: First Kill, I never bought into the story or concept to allow the film to wash over me. I love a bananas horror film, and I am happy to throw disbelief away at the door, but this movie took its concept and subject far too seriously to really be fun and far too light to build the tension to a fever pitch. I wanted the movie to lean into its concepts far more, to either build the suspense or poke fun at the ridiculousness, but Orphan: First Kill simply lacks either.
Better than the first, Orphan: First Kill is a valiant effort to revise a series that many thought long dead. With some good performances, and an uncanny concept, there are some fascinating moments within this film’s 1h 39 minute runtime. While it will not set the world on fire, there is enough to excite the horror fans looking for the next great kill.