Synopsis – Esther’s terrifying saga continues in this thrilling prequel to the original and shocking horror hit, Orphan. After orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family. Yet, an unexpected twist arises that pits her against a mother who will protect her family from the murderous “child” at any cost.
My Take – We can all attest to the fact that there are at least two dozen monster children focused horror films, and with so many out there their isn’t exactly a lot of room left to surprise anyone. Nevertheless, director Jaume Collet-Serra‘s Orphan (2009) managed to be terribly entertaining, without being exactly good, earning its titular antagonist, Esther, a spot among the modern horror pantheon, particularly for its insane final act twist and campy screenplay.
A twist which revealed that Esther was not, in fact, not 9 years old, but a woman in her early 30s suffering from hypopituitarism, a rare hormonal disorder that stunted her physical growth and caused proportional dwarfism, and had spent most of her life posing as a little girl.
Purely on technicality, this long-delayed prequel story shouldn’t have been possible. When the original was produced, actress Isabelle Fuhrman was just 12 years old, posing as a 33-year-old, stuck in a 9-year-old looking body, delivering her role very effectively with supreme creepiness.
Now 13 years later, Fuhrman is 25 years old, and significantly taller, however, director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, The Boy) and scriptwriter David Coggeshall, working with a story from writers David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace, come up with distinct camera angles, make-up, and some VFX, to make her look almost the same. It helps, of course, that Fuhrman has the skill to pull this off.
However, the biggest surprise comes from the fact that, how the film manages to surpass its predecessor in terms of entertainment quotient. Yes, while prequel is framed very similarly as the original, it also backed by a cleverly flipped script that re-contextualizes the narrative in an interesting new light that plays to the strengths of the film’s unique title character.
This one isn’t a page-one retread of the original film, nor is it a self-indulgent mess obsessed with stuff fans demanded from the first film. Instead, it’s a competent thriller that is refreshingly clever, unpredictable and gruesome.
Taking place sometime before the events of its predecessor, the story begins in 2007 Estonia, and follows Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman), who is residing in Saarne psychiatric facility as its most dangerous inmate. While Lena may look like a little girl, she is actually an adult woman, who is also extremely manipulative and capable of enormous violence. Pretty quickly, Lena manages to make her escape and manages to get hold of a computer, where she starts looking for missing children, via the Internet, who resemble her.
Zeroing down on Esther Albright, the daughter of a wealthy American couple, Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles) and Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland), who went missing four years ago, with the presumption being that she was abducted. Alerted by the Russian police, Esther find herself retrieved by Mom Tricia who bring her home to the Albright mansion, where the artist Dad Allen (Rossif Sutherland) is especially overjoyed to see her, accepting any differences as understandable changes due to both age and whatever she’s been through the past couple of years, while teen brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) is mostly indifferent.
Though everything seems to be initially going well, an unexpected twist arises that pits her against a mother who will protect her family from the murderous child at any cost.
While the film initial feels like an accelerated retread of the first, especially since viewers of original know how that film started. Yet, as the film progresses, its true conceit comes to life, throwing in a huge plot twist that makes us lean forward. Turning the film something of a camp masterpiece, something so committed to its own lunacy, that it’s likely to become one of 2022’s most entertaining horror films. Without a doubt the screenplay by David Coggeshall is pretty clever, answering some of our initial questions, and also taking care of answering questions that will occur to most people at the start.
Sure, we still know what is going to happen, but suddenly, we’re very interested in how exactly the film will unravel. But for all the exaggerated narrative flourishes, director William Brent Bell still manages to wring some genuine tension from the proceedings. Once all the pieces are in play, the script develops into a game of cat-and-mouse, with vacillating roles from moment to moment. It all remains ruthlessly self-aware, but there’s a grounded intensity to seeing how its foregone conclusion plays out.
Yes, whilst the film does trip over its own self-contained logic several times in an attempt to be more intelligent than its own good, for the most part, the film is a pleasant joyride that sticks to the beats of the genre with a few creative flourishes. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel of horror, but it’s undeniable that director William Brent Bell adds some flashing lights that make the spinning cogs of genre film-making look a little more exciting.
As expected, Isabelle Fuhrman invests in her role as the delightful evil titular villain with a malevolent, dry grin and a cold creepiness. She makes strong performance choices, and plays young without overdoing it. Julia Stiles bringing a thrilling theatricality to her role as the loving mother, delivering a layered efficiency filled with surprises and successfully intelligent quips. While Matthew Finlan, Rossif Sutherland and Hiro Kanagawa lend good support. On the whole, ‘Orphan: First Kill’ is a thrilling horror prequel that is both deliciously original and shockingly twisted.
Directed – William Brent Bell
Rated – R
Run Time – 99 minutes