Orphan: First Kill, 2022.
Directed by William Brent Bell.
Starring Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa, and Matthew Finlan.
After orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family.
Regardless of what one thinks of 2009’s Orphan, there’s intrigue for a follow-up because there is no shocking twist to fall back on; in Orphan: First Kill, it’s all out in the open. More tantalizing is the prospect of Isabelle Fuhrman not just returning to the role that kick-started her career (and you should check out some of her other phenomenal performances, such as in the intense rowing drama The Novice), but doing so now as an adult that must be passed off as a child for real rather than her being a child but playing an adult character suffering from a rare form of dwarfism (the big reveal in the first movie).
While the above poses a massive filmmaking challenge for director William Brent Bell and cinematographer Karim Hussain (who succeeds at creating a believable illusion through crafty tilted and overhead camera angles, alongside using a pair of body doubles for trickier shots that utilize the character’s entire figure), one could imagine Isabelle Fuhrman leaping at the opportunity to wreak more havoc as the deranged killer once again.
And let’s face it, the original script didn’t exactly capitalize on the amount of thematic and character-driven potential in a horror story about an adult trapped inside a child’s body. There’s also no reason to make Orphan: First Kill if the filmmakers aren’t going to expand on the character or take the story in a different direction.
Disappointingly, William Brent Bell (who doesn’t have the best track record with blunders like The Boy series and The Devil Inside on his resume) and screenwriter David Coggeshall (working from a story by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and creator of the original characters, Alex Mace) are content to stick to the formula of the first slick, at least for roughly an hour of its running time.
Isabelle Fuhrman is a 31-year-old Estonian-born Leena Klammer, appearing as a physically stunted child due to hormonal disorder hypopituitarism. Orphan: First Kill isn’t necessarily interested in what made this woman a murdering psychopath, opting to start the story at the Saarne Institute, where psychologists and therapists try to understand her, to no avail. Leena stages a breakout (a rather unconvincing one that brings up questions regarding the incompetence of the faculty staff) that involves manipulating a horny guard and smashing his face into the wall until it’s a bloody mess.
That last part is demented fun; it’s easy to buy into a male security guard behaving that grossly (especially if he knows that she is an adult woman despite her childlike appearance). Meanwhile, the rest of the escape is a poorly conceived laughingstock. Nevertheless, following the escape, Leena accesses the Internet and decides to pose as a missing American girl, subsequently reuniting with the family. That girl’s name is, of course, Esther (the name she goes by in Orphan, which takes place two years after this prequel story).
What ensues is not much of a departure from Orphan, which does make sense given that it’s wise for a prequel to establish Esther’s future MO. However, this also makes for a been there- done that experience; Esther tricks the family into thinking she is someone she’s not while also developing a lustful attraction towards a father (Rossif Sutherland) unsuspecting of her true identity. There’s also a mother (Julia Stiles) who struggles to connect with her daughter/not daughter, and a brother sibling (Matthew Finlan) who is a fencing expert and hangs around with a cruel friend group.
The first seed planted that Orphan: First Kill will inevitably flip the script occurs when the friends mentioned above begin insulting Esther (who gives an amusingly nasty response in her native language). It’s a no-brainer that if one is going to tell another Orphan story, the right creative choice is to show an empathetic and even sympathetic side to this killer cast out of society as a freak show. Returning to the first movie, there is human drama to tap into regarding the character’s sexual frustration and seemingly wanting to be desired sexually despite an appearance she can’t control. It’s a concept Orphan mostly fumbled in favor of over-the-top blood splatters and contrived nonsense, and the same could be said about Orphan: First Kill.
This filmmaking team could have done anything with the central family, but what they have settled on is painfully lazy and overblown. It’s already a misstep that it takes until the third act to finally start setting itself apart narratively from the original, but it ultimately falls flat on its face once it takes the right idea and proceeds to drop the ball. There are a few exciting moments to be had from painting Leena/Esther as a psychotic force to root for, but the script once again fails at exploring the human elements of this horror.
Orphan: First Kill is eye-rolling schlock which is doubly frustrating considering the sentiment that both Orphan movies could have been so much more. The one saving grace is that Isabelle Fuhrman seems to be having a devilish blast, so it would be nice to find filmmakers that know what to do with this character.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com