Orphan: First Kill is a prequel to 2009’s Orphan, which starred Isabelle Fuhrman as the murderous Esther. In the original, Esther was the adopted ‘evil child’ before it was revealed she’s actually a grown adult who only looks like a child (due to hypopituitarism). The prequel takes a modest pivot to tell the story of how Esther stole the identity of a missing girl called Esther Albright. The film’s main premise being Esther returning to the USA to be with the Albright family.
Isabelle Fuhrman is strong in reprising the role of Esther, even if it’s harder to believe she (25 this year) is a believable child. Similarly, Julia Stiles excels as the hyper-competent, and at times sensual, mother. Fuhrman and Stiles carry a lot of the film together. Matthew Finlan (the brother) and Hiro Kanagawa (the detective) provide complementary performances.
Orphan: First Kill opens in the Saarne Institute, the Estonian mental hospital discussed in the original, before Esther manages to escape. We have some lovely panning visuals of snow-covered landscapes and a quaint ‘Estonian’ town—I understand these sections were shot in Canada though. This opening section is strong, heavy on atmosphere and tension; however, I expected it to take up a bigger part of the film.
In contrast to the original, the audience already knows the real Esther so the setup is totally different. Orphan: First Kill doesn’t shy away from this. The opening scenes show Esther at full throttle from the outset, and it leans into its ludicrous premise. However, partway through the film goes in a totally different direction than I had anticipated. One moment in particular absolutely took me by surprise. This worked well for me, as I don’t think trying to recreate the original would have worked; however, it comes at the cost of the creepiness and tension that some horror fans want from the genre.
Orphan: First Kill is visually interesting, in particular the opening scenes in the Saarne Institute and scenes showing off the gothic-inspired Albright House. Most other locations aren’t overly memorable, and the black-light painting conceit didn’t do much for me (except in the marketing material). Sprinkled throughout are some clever framing tricks that I really enjoyed. From a music perspective, it’s solid but much like the rest of the film, there is a disconnect between the opening scenes – which are tense orchestral pieces—and later scenes—which lean into the campiness.
Overall, Orphan: First Kill is a fun addition to the Orphan franchise. It will appeal more to those fans who like their horror campy rather than creepy. But it still has enough surprises to keep its viewers guessing.
Orphan: First Kill releases in Australian cinemas on the 1st of September, 2022.