Orphan: First Kill (Movie Review)

Every now and then a Horror film comes along that truly shocks and delights audiences. Back in 2009, Orphan was one of those films. Over a decade later, Esther is back and ready to destroy another family in Orphan: First Kill.

Directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside 2012, The Boy 2016), this prequel sees Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan 2009, The Hunger Games 2012) once again taking up the velvet chokers. But this time we know Esther’s secret—she only looks like a child but is really in her thirties. What we don’t know is how she came to be the master manipulator and vicious killer audiences grew to love. Streaming on Paramount+, VOD, and screening in theaters in the US on August 19, 2022, Orphan: First Kill explores the origins of one of modern Horror’s favorite slashers.

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Deep in the snowy mountains of Estonia, Esther—whose real name is Leena Klammer—is one of the Saarne Institute’s most violent patients. Despite stern warnings not to be misled by Leena’s childlike appearance, new art therapist Anna (Gwendolyn Collins: Stand! 2019, The Return 2020) reaches out to Leena. Leena quickly figures out a way to take advantage of Anna and orchestrates an escape from the institution at the cost of several lives. Being the manipulator she is, it isn’t long before Leena cons her way into the lives of the Albright family in Connecticut by posing as their missing daughter, Esther.

When “Esther” returns home, her father Allen (Rossif Sutherland: River 2015, Possessor 2020) is ecstatic. He quickly involves her in his art—massive painted canvases with images hidden in UV paint. Her mother Tricia (Julia Stiles: 10 Things I Hate About You 1999, Hustlers 2019) and brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan: Grand Army series, Brazen 2022) are warier about the changes in Esther—she has an Estonian accent now, for one. When a dark family secret is revealed, everything changes for the Albrights and for Esther.

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That shocking twist is one that flips this movie on its head. At the start, it seems like Orphan: First Kill is nothing more than a rehash of the original with the violence turned up. Knowing Esther’s secret puts us at an advantage. We know what she really is. We don’t know how she got from the Albrights to the Colemans (the family in Orphan). But that in itself is not enough to keep the beginning engaging. Julia Stiles almost feels wasted on this story. That is until the twist comes around. From then on, Stiles is allowed to shine. If you are able to sit through a mild start, you will be in for a wild ride.

Fuhrman was only ten years old when Orphan was filmed. That alone made the film’s shocking twist feel real. Now, though, Furhman is in her twenties, yet Orphan: First Kill takes place before the events of the original. She has the voice and the mannerisms down, but the effect is not quite the same anymore. Thankfully, Bell opted to use practical camera effects rather than the often uncanny de-aging via CGI. In fact, Orphan: First Kill feels distinctly lower budget than its predecessor, like it was filmed for cable television rather than big screens. One unique effect is the UV paint in Allen’s art—a really cool gimmick that, unfortunately, is not used to maximum effect. Even so, the film’s twisty plot and graphic kills should be more than enough to keep audiences interested. At a brisk 99 minutes, the film flies by after it reaches its midpoint.

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Orphan: First Kill stands on its own by scratching at the surface of what lies beneath the gilded exterior of ultra-rich white families and what lengths they will go to in order to preserve their status. It takes on all the challenges presented by a prequel, especially one made long after its predecessor. It doesn’t always succeed, but for fans of Orphan, Orphan: First Kill is absolutely worth the watch. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3 out of 5 stars.

Paramount Pictures 

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