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Orphan: First Kill Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Serving as a prequel to the original Orphan from 2009, it tells the delightfully twisted tale of Esther, & how she found her way onto US soil. A passable second part!

Genre: Horror / Thriller

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa, Matthew Finlan, David Lawrence Brown, Samantha Walkes & Gwendolyn Collins.

Run Time: 99 min.

US Release: 19 August 2022 (Paramount+)

UK Release: 19 August 2022

German Release: 08 September 2022

As a fan of the original Orphan, I was looking forward to seeing the preluding story of Esther and how she managed to find her way into the U.S. Murmures of a possible follow-up to the 2009 horror-thriller, were out in the air for a few years, with confirmation of a prequel finally being announced early 2020. Now out in theatres, I need to say that even though the story has a few issues, First Kill is generally a good prologue to Orphan, even if it was developed eleven years too late. So let’s dig into Orphan: First Kill!

After an impressive escape from an Estonian psychiatric asylum and travelling to America, Leena steals the identity of a wealthy family's daughter, who went missing four years ago. However, life as "Esther" pits her against a mother who will do anything to protect her family from the murderous “child”.

Original writers David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace served as producers but were also involved in the development of the story, with David Coggeshall finalising the screenplay. Serving as the prologue to the original movie, the narrative is based on the snippets of information that sister Abigail gives the Colemans. Herein lies the trouble though, as inconsistencies start popping up. In Orphan, sister Abigail refers to Esther as an Estonian girl that was adopted by the Sullivans, from a Russian orphanage. A plot point that doesn’t suit this prequel's tale is that Leena stole Esther's identity as the missing daughter from the Albrights.

Technically, this issue could be fixed with a further sequel about a third family adopting Leena, a.k.a. Esther, before the Colemans get their shot at the psychopath murderer. Question is, wouldn’t a second house fire and dead family raise a red flag on Esther? Wouldn’t the same methodology get old for viewers?

Putting those issues aside, First Kill’s script was competently written, embracing its whacky premise plus including some dark, twisted humour! Opening with an introductory scene about Leena’s heritage in Estonia, audiences get an explicit insight into her medical and mental condition, before the character escapes. Searching the web for missing 9-year-old children that resemble her appearance, Leena steals Esther’s identity, thus managing to get onto US soil. From here on, the plot follows the original template, until it pulls the rug from under the viewers, with a shocking, unexpected twist no one saw coming!

The dialogue is more tongue-in-cheek this time around, accepting its deliciously crazy idea about an adult woman, who suffers from dwarfism, posing as a child. The language is more adult-oriented with quite an amount of cursing, sprinkled throughout its runtime.

Isabelle Fuhrman returns as Leena, aka Esther, easily slipping back into her role from eleven years ago, when she was twelve. Having grown as an actress since her debut, as the murderous 33-year-old in a child’s body, Furhman excels at bestowing her character with deeper personality traits. As good as Fuhrman is, sadly her age reveals the truth since she can’t pass off as a nine-year-old child anymore. Her chemistry with Rossif Thunderland, who played the father of the family, was also somewhat iffy but that is because both do not obtain enough screentime together.

Julia Stiles portrays Tricia Albright, mother to the real Esther. Stiles can hold herself, next to the incredible performance of Fuhrman, however, she doesn’t reach the greatness that Vera Farmiga brought to the table in the first picture. That said, while I was sceptical as to why she was so cold towards Leena, who acted as her returning daughter, revelations are made that clarified the situation and fortified Stiles’ choice of performance!

Rossif Sutherland, who plays Tricia’s husband and Esther’s father Allen Albright, was a pleasure to watch. He gave a good rendition of a father, ready to believe anything, simply to have his missing daughter back! Allen is an incredibly likeable character, who gets sadly robbed of a decision at the end, that would have given the movie a bigger impact!

Matthew Finlan as Gunnar Albright was the weakest of the cast members! Just like Stiles, he is a cold character towards Esther, while ungrateful to Allen, but what really makes him unbearable, is a revelation during the third act that makes him truly despicable, as he shows no remorse! Finlan himself, over-acted to such an extent that it became tiring!

Technically, Orphan first kill is a film that looks great for the most part. More creative in the cinematography department than its predecessor ever was, using over-the-shoulder shots, as well as downward angles, to create the illusion that Fuhrman is as tall as a pre-teen girl. However, the overuse of those techniques, start to cheapen the camera work. What was intriguing, is the sterile, cold colour palette, that sent shivers down one’s back, contrasting with the creepy-looking black-light drawing scenes.

The make-up effects to de-age Isabelle Fuhrman are truly fantastic! Sadly, while making her credibly younger, they did not manage to make her appear like a nine-year-old child. She looks like a teenager, but she visibly aged since her first appearance as the character in 2009. That said, the visual effects, where they used body doubles, and added her face in digitally, are really well solved! Gore and blood effects are also brilliantly established, making for a fun, gruesome experience at the cinema.


Verdict: Bell’s prequel to Collet-Serra’s first flick of 2009, is well developed and contains unexpected twists at the end of the second act. Still, it comes with inconsistencies that contradict what was set up in the original through dialogue. The biggest irregularity, though, is that it has been produced a few years too late, because Isabelle Fuhrman, while being brilliant in the role of Esther, simply doesn’t look like a nine-year-old girl anymore! Yes, the make-up department has done wonders in de-ageing her without the use of CGI, yet there are limitations to how young you can make a 25-year-old look! The camera also did its fair share of trickery, to make her look smaller and younger, by using upward and downward angles, or specific over-the-shoulder shots. However, it came at the cost of making an appealing-looking film. In the end, Orphan: First Kill is an acceptable sequel, worth a 6.0 out of 10.

Have you seen Orphan: First Kill yet? What are your thoughts on this prequel? Leave a comment below & thank you for reading!


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