Orphan: First Kill (2022)

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Orphan First Kill poster
Directed by William Brent Bell

It shouldn’t work. Of all the horror properties I thought I’d want to see a prequel to 13 years later, Orphan would be towards the bottom of the list. It’s not that I didn’t like the original – on the contrary, I frickin’ loved it. It was a top-tier concept with one of my favourite villains in modern horror. However, because the movie is about learning Esther’s backing story and requires the audience to buy the now 25-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman’s passing as a grown-up passong as a 10 year old, I didn’t think it’d work. Heck, I thought it’d be as bad an idea as Brahms: The Boy II, which it shares a director with. Still, I’m always happy to be wrong about these things and am pleased to report Orphan: First Kill is the most unexpectedly good franchise film since the Child’s Play remake.

It isn’t off to a great start. When we meet Esther, she’s already offed someone, so the title doesn’t work (though David Coggeshall also penned a movie called The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, so I shouldn’t be surprised). As such, she’s in an Estonian asylum called the Saarne Institute. Thankfully its security is both lazy and horny, so it’s not long before she gets out Hannibal Lecter style. A short trip to Moscow later, and she’s able to pass as the missing child of a wealthy family in the States: Tricia (Stiles) and Allen (Sutherland) and their son Gunnar (Finlan). Fans of the first one will know roughly how the story, Esther lies, quickly falls for the guy who thinks he’s her dad, and things go south, etc. But how long can she keep the lie going?

By following Esther, Orphan First Kill makes us complicit in her ruse from the start. It’s an exciting position for the audience, seeing as she’s ultimately conning a family by playing on their grief. Think Danny Ocean with really small, and weird tactics. And while I’m a big fan of the character, at points, I almost felt a little sadistic watching her take advantage of them – especially Allen, who was crushed by his kid going missing. Tricia may be suspicious, as Esther continuously makes little slip-ups, but there’s a tragedy to how eagerly he believes her. If there’s a heart to the film, it’s his evident love for his daughter. It permeates much of the movie – particularly the scenes where he and Esther bond on painting, and for these moments, you almost want them to live happily ever after as an odd, fucked-up family unit. Note that word ‘almost’.

Of course, it helps that the performances are spot on. Julia Stiles is an actor who really should be doing more cinema, and she handles the material well. Esther doesn’t entirely convince Tricia, so she is an antagonist (albeit to a villain). So its a testament to Stiles that she’s good enough to ensure audiences loyalties remain split. However, once again, Fuhrman steals the show. She completely inhabits the role, equally selling Esther the adult psychopath and the innocent little girls others take her as. For the most part, the practical and digital effects needed to achieve her passing aren’t too distracting – even if the use of kids as body doubles takes the piss a little. However, at times the screen seems to have a light fog over it – I wondered if this was a filter to disguise it. Regardless, I took glee in watching the scam unfold.

Since we know Esther’s MO from the last entry and what happens in this one, it’s not unreasonable to assume you know where this one is going. Thankfully, the writing team finds fun ways to trip up viewers, and I applaud them for keeping it fresh. There’s nothing in First Kill that’s quite as bombastic as the reveal last time around, but it’s a far less by-the-numbers outing than I thought it’d be. The lean running and fast pacing also mean it has momentum despite the predefined destination and small stakes. And while I would have liked to see more of Esther trying to fit in, as her situation becomes more precarious, and her cover gets threatened by more sources, I thoroughly enjoyed watching her struggle. I was rarely thrilled, though.

One recurring problem with First Kill is that the plot relies on characters making really stupid decisions – something that only becomes more pronounced the longer it goes on. Also, for reasons I wouldn’t want to spoil, a central character’s motivation also ceases to make any sense. Still, because the movie’s fully aware of its ridiculousness and leans into it a lot during the second half, going from the unlikely to the absurd, then you’re encouraged to suspend your disbelief. Gradually, it morphs into more of a black comedy caper – a wise choice since Esther is ruining people’s lives, and we don’t want to dwell on the emotional consequences of that too long. Yet because of the switch in tone, it never manages to seriously sell the source of tension that it goes with and I suspect some of the audience may not be fully convinced.

Still, a slight dip at the start of the third act aside, I was entertained the whole way through. Orphan: First Kill has resurrected a property I never thought we’d see again and establishes Esther as one of the most enjoyable horror creations of the new millennium. Intelligent, ruthless, and with a weak point (middle-aged family men), she’s the best kind of baddy. And she’s one I didn’t realise I’d want to see come back for more evil deeds. But preferably before 2035. Not just because Fuhrman will be 38 – she has exceeded my expectations this time and can no doubt again. But because this one was way better than it has any right to be.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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About david.s.smith 450 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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