When Orphan became a major hit in 2007 it only made sense that a sequel would be on the way. An atmospheric gothic horror that felt reminiscent of older children demon films such as The Omen, Bad Seed and Children of the Corn. The film was also an introduction to Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther. Portraying a young girl who is actually a thirty year old murder is an unusual challenge but Fuhrman was up to the challenge and proved to be one of the best child stars of the 2000’s. But then something strange happened. No sequel came out and Fuhrman who would star in a minor role in the first Hunger Games film was never given that next big role to launch her career. Orphan however grew into popularity and even grew its own very strong fanbase constantly looking for another terror with Esther even after her demise. What turned out is much like the trickster fake child, there was another trick up their sleeve for an Orphan sequel. Instead it would be a prequel, only one problem Fuhrman who was ten years old when they filmed the first film is now twenty-five. Once again Fuhrman was up to the challenge and with director William Brent Bell (Stay Alive, The Boy) would bring back Esther and turn the years back giving us an absurd and terrifying new chapter in Esther’s murderous life. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is fifteen years in the making and while it had a lot to live up to it gives this critic great pleasure to say that it was worth the wait.
When we first meet Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) she is known as Leena, a murderous woman stuck in a psychiatric facility in Estonia where she is known as their most dangerous patient. Leena is able to control other patients with mind games and eventually uses this to her advantage in a brutal and bloody escape costing the lives of many. Fuhrman hasn’t missed a beat over the years and instantly falls back into Leena/Esther’s mannerisms that include being as sweets as pie all before bashing a prison guard’s head into the wall. Fuhrman who gained critical acclaim for last year’s The Novice, continuously proves that she is one of her generation’s best actors. Leena soon takes on the identity of a lost American girl named Esther and is quickly brought back to America to be reunited with Esther’s family the Albrights. Esther first meets Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles) who much like Vera Farmiga in the first film is both quiet while clearly harboring some painful secrets. Her husband Allen (Rossif Sutehrland) is a painter who has lost his touch because of his daughter’s disappearance, and their son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) who excels at fencing and is a walking poster boy for white male privilege. The setup feels familiar as it becomes quickly apparent that Esther feels attraction for Allen, disdain for Tricia and Gunnar and her murderous ways are just waiting to be unleashed. It doesn’t help that a Detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) and child therapist Dr. Segar (Samantha Walkes) appear to be on her trail. Donnan who worked Esther’s case doesn’t buy it for a second and will do what he needs to do to ensure the safety of his rich Connecticut town.
Again nothing all too different from the first film and if you are beginning to feel like the wait was not worth it for just another rehashing then you don’t know Orphan. As if turning Fuhrman into a child again wasn’t enough ORPHAN: FIRST KILL saves its biggest surprise for a wild midway turning point. This review will stay as spoiler free as it can but know that much like learning Esther was an adult girl in the first one, the new surprises carry just as much weight. Credit to Stiles who reminds us of what made her a big star in the late 90’s. Stiles’ Tricia also shows that these movies are also about the battles between good and evil women. How they work the dynamics of their family behind the scenes and doing whatever it takes to not lose any power. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL works best when it dives in headfirst into the absurdity and lets loose in the same way that Fuhrman has for the entire film. While on a directing level this feels a little too standard but major credit to both the makeup and wardrobe department for bringing back Fuhrman to ten years old. In a time of CGI de-aging its exciting to see some more practical uses at their disposal. This is the type of film that even when it runs too short it screams re-watch with your friends on a stormy Halloween night. Much like the original it will bring an exciting new horror for a younger generation and feels like a perfect treat for everyone who has stood by the original for so long.
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL IS STREAMING ON PARAMOUNT+