In the entertainment industry, sequels and prequels are typically conceived to continue the hype of a franchise and keep interest up. Another rather important reason for this is the actors involved in key roles might age out between projects, become to expensive as popularity increases, or could possibly choose not to return after so long. And the horror genre needs to keep things cheap. One such horror movie, Orphan, came out in the summer of 2009 with typical reactions as expected to the genre at the time: critics hated it, and fans loved it. Now, a little over thirteen years later, we finally have another chapter to this beloved movie called Orphan: First Kill.
Reprising her role from the original film, Isabelle Fuhrman returns as Leena (aka Esther). The story begins in 2007 where we find Leena in the Saarne Institute in Estonia before the events of the original film. She meets a new art therapist and immediately concocts a plan to get out of the facility. After luring a guard into her cell and swiftly taking him out, Leena manages to escape in the trunk of the art therapist’s car as she’s about to head home. Once at her home, Leena kills her and cleans herself up before finding a photo of a missing American girl who she has a striking resemblance to. In that moment, Leena begins her new identity as Esther and heads to America to “reunite with her family”.
Esther arrives and meets her new family which includes Tricia (played by Julia Stiles), Allen and Gunnar. The family is understandably cautious and quiet around their long-lost Esther and notice the subtle changes she is exhibiting. Esther begins to settle in at her new home and is taken to see a therapist who is attempting to understand what happened to her while she was missing for so many years. While Tricia seems to not fully be ok with this new version of her daughter, Esther begins to bond with Allen over their shared love of painting. The police inspector who oversaw Esther’s disappearance case begins coming by the house and asking questions about Esther. This creates a panic in her which, as we know from the original film, causes Esther to figure out how to eliminate this problem. She follows the inspector home and as he’s piecing together that Esther isn’t who she says she is, she makes her move. What happens next is so sudden and unexpected that I will not be spoiling the second half of the story.
The biggest challenge in the production of this film was also what made it even more intriguing than it should’ve been. When the original film came out Isabelle Fuhrman was 10 years old and was playing a (spoiler for the original film) full grown adult. Over a decade later, Isabelle is now 25 and has to play a slightly younger version of her character in the original film. This sounds like an issue that would completely stump most film productions, but the “movie magic” that was done in this film was truly something to appreciate. With the casting of taller supporting actors, forced perspective camera angles, child body doubles for rear facing shots, and carefully placed set elevations, the crew managed to create the illusion almost better than they had the first time around without overdoing it in use of CGI effects to pull off the trick.
As far as performances go, both Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles nailed their respective roles and genuinely surprised me with their chemistry and tension. Fuhrman brings the same level innocent looking evil genius creepiness that made her such a standout in the original film. Stiles started off the film with a very bland performance that I had come to expect from her, but I was pleasantly surprised by her acting in the last two acts of the film. The story of this prequel not only added to the original film’s lore, it makes the audience question their feelings about Esther and her actions after seeing what she really went through.
With a truly wild story, some genuinely impressive visual tricks, and some stellar acting, Orphan: First Kill is a surprising prequel to the divisive original. With over a decade between films and many fans having lost hope of any kind of a follow-up, this prequel will surely impress fans and critics alike with its bold take on this unique and complicated character of Esther. If you weren’t the biggest fan of 2009’s Orphan, you may not be that crazy about this film. But, if you were curious about what led Esther to her devious ways and want to learn more about her life prior, this is definitely a solid entry to this series.