Movie Review: ‘Orphan: First Kill’

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa

Plot: Having escaped from a mental hospital, the perpetually youthful looking Leena adopts the identity of a missing girl and infiltrates the lives of grieving parents as their lost daughter Esther.

Review: Although it was never held up as a classic of the genre, or a great success at the box-office, 2009s Orphan managed to haunt the public consciousness for 15 years. This is in part due to the striking poster image of the sinister Esther glaring at us in cinemas. It’s also a result of the batshit insane twist that revealed that the highly manipulative Esther is not a 12 year old, but a grown woman with a hormonal disorder. A rug-pull of this magnitude could easily derail a thriller, but the shockingly good performance from a 12 year old Isabelle Fuhrman carried it through. With this one oddball movie being hanged on the young performer and the curveball ending, a sequel was not likely to materialise.

Yet, here we are with a 25 year old Fuhrman reprising the role of ‘Esther’ in a prequel movie. We’re being driven largely by curiosity here.

Addressing the first thought anyone has with this movie, how have they made a prequel to a movie that featured a child playing an adult with the adult playing the adult who still looks like a child? Fuhrman is still more than capable of playing the highly manipulative and murderous Esther, but the reversal of the casting presents new challenges. It appears as though in addition to make-up used to give Fuhrman a more youthful appearance, she’s spending much of her time being positioned low in frame and on a lower level than other actors along with 12 year old body double Kennedy Irwin. In spite of their best efforts, the shift between Fuhrman and her double are pretty noticeable. I feel as though they’ve done the best that can be done in the circumstances, but you still need to squint for it to completely work and even then there’s slight Tiptoes at work here.

In the original film, Esther is adopted into an unsuspecting family. This previous event follows a much more sinister and malicious scheme. Having escaped medical confinement and taken the identity of missing American girl Esther, she joins a family still healing from the loss of the young girl. Initially a ploy to escape Estonia and start fresh in the US, Esther develops an attraction to her new ‘father’ Allen (Sutherland). In addition to suspicious detectives and therapists, Esther’s mother (Stiles) is wary of this unexpectedly returned daughter and seeks to delve deeper into her reappearance.

What keeps the movie lively is the unanticipated dark family secrets tied up in the original Esther’s disappearance. Esther’s MO is manipulating family members to her own ends, and some skeletons in the closet result in a game of wits between Esther and her rivals.

The entire thing is schlocky with some real scenery chewing characters. You need a touch of camp for this whole concept to work, otherwise you get reminded that the lead actor is shuffling around on their knees while playing a calculating villain. As a gimmick it’s intriguing enough for us to look forward to seeing what they’re going to pull out for this one.

There’s a strong cast behind this, and they know how to deliver the melodramatic dialogue. There’s not much in the way of a deeper meaning, it’s an unashamedly B-movie concept elevated by good performances.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN