While there will be no spoilers for Orphan: First Kill (2022) in this review, there will be spoilers for the 2009 film that this movie is a prequel of, simply called Orphan (2009). In fact, director William Brent Bell’s new movie doesn’t take a chance on whether its audience has seen the original or not, telling you the big twist of the first film in the opening moments of this one. That twist is simply Esther Albright (Isabelle Fuhrman) looks like a young child, but is actually a grown woman in her 30s. Fuhrman was around 12 when she played Esther the first time and gave an incredible performance selling this odd twist…but in First Kill, she is noticeably older and much taller than the even younger version of the character would have been. It’s an issue that the film struggles to get over as some shots just simply look kind of silly.
The prequel shows how Leena becomes Esther after orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility. Leena does a quick search for missing children, and luck would have it she resembles one named Esther. She travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family who shrugs off the Russian accent and welcomes her home.
Her “mother” is played by Julia Stiles and her “father” by Rossif Sutherland. There is a clear wall between them that Esther’s return helps bring down. The grieving family is so overjoyed to have their daughter back that Sutherland even resumes painting, which he’d given up after the loss. Her brother, played by Matthew Finlan, seems the least enthused to have his sister back, but doesn’t seem to upset about it either.
Fans of the original film will be excited that it doesn’t take long for the horror moments to kick off. Ether’s wild murderous streak is highlighted right at the beginning of the film. Though the biggest thrill of the first film was the revelation about her real identity, one may assume this film must be more straightforward with its story. I was surprised to find that the writing team – David Coggeshall credited for screenplay and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace receiving story credits – found a way to mix this one up as well. The story went places that I wasn’t expecting, but even those surprises don’t really add up to much when the film concludes.
While I think Fuhrman and Stiles do as much as they can with the material, it is quite hard to get past some of the shots. The crew used a mixture of forced perspective and child actor stand-ins to make Fuhrman look 12 again. However, it really doesn’t make her look 12 again, but instead reminded me of “Dorf on Sports”, where actor Tim Conroy would stand in a hole and put shoes at his knees. It just looked silly.
Orphan: First Kill isn’t terrible, but it’s also far too late for a sequel. Fuhrman is a really talented actress, and if you haven’t seen the film The Novice (2021), I highly recommend it. Still, I think there is enough in this film that fans may rejoice for the return of this character. It’s certainly not the worst horror film I’ve seen in recent years. Orphan: First Kill earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.