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Review: Orphan: First Kill

August 18, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Please note that there are spoilers for the 2009 film Orphan in this review.

The idea of making a prequel to the 2009 film Orphan thirteen years after the fact with lead actress Isabelle Fuhrman, who was a child at the time and is now in her mid-20s, reprising her role as pint-sized con artist Esther, sounds like a risky endeavour at best, and a sure-fire a recipe for disaster at worst.

Which is why director William Brent Bell’s Orphan: First Kill, which is being released direct to streaming this week, feels like such a nice surprise. The film is far, far more fun than it has any right to be, and the sheer audaciousness of making a belated prequel to Orphan nearly a decade-and-a-half later, let alone one starring the same child actress who is now very much a grown woman, has to be admired.

The first film was a sick and suitably messed up little flick with a killer twist that has gained a following over the years, and this one works as a surprisingly worthy expansion of it that helps flesh out the backstory. Because First Kill is set two years prior to the events of Orphan, that film’s twist (that the girl who has inserted herself into a family is actually a woman in her thirties with a rare hormone disorder and an ulterior motive) is very quickly and matter-of-factly established as a key plot point in the opening prologue (for full effect, this is a prequel to be watched after the film it precedes).

The year is 2007, and an erstwhile art therapist (Gwendolyn Collins) arrives at the Saarne Institute in Estonia to work with Leena Klammer (Fuhrman), the psychiatric facility’s most difficult patient, who has the appearance of a child but the cunning of an adult psychopath. Leena escapes and makes her way to America, posing as the missing child of Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland). The Albrights are an affluent family left reeling from their daughter Esther’s disappearance some years prior, and they gladly welcome her into their home with teenaged son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).

Fuhrman’s reprisal of the lead role, which Bell ingeniously achieved through a mix of good old fashioned in-camera effects including forced perspective, platform shoes for her co-stars and shorter body doubles, among other tricks, is front and centre in Orphan: First Kill. One of the most fun aspects of the film is the cinematic magic trick of seeing the adult Furhman disappear into the role of Esther once again, and there is something to be said for the fact that she is able to believably play the same role that she did as a child with the help of the seamless practical effects.

The opening prologue in Estonia feels a bit rushed, and the final scene is maybe a little too on the nose as a tie-in to the first film. But Orphan: First Kill works thanks to its cleverly subversive script by David Coggeshall, which is cognizant of the fact that it follows similar beats to the first one but still finds ways to make the story feel fresh and twisted in its own right, while mixing in a few biting hints of class commentary. Fronted by Fuhrman’s captivating performance, along with a solid sense of tension and some gnarly kills, Orphan: First Kill is a winner for genre fans who dug the first one. It’s honestly just so entertaining and better than it really has any right to be.

Orphan: First Kill will be available to stream exclusively on Paramount+ as of August 19th. It’s being distributed in Canada by VVS Films.

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