Orphan: First Kill - New Release Review
Director: William Brent Bell
Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa
Written by: David Coggeshall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Alex Mace
Produced by: Ethan Erwin, Alex Mace, Hal Sadoff, James Tomlinson
Cinematography by: Karim Hussain
Original Score by: Brett Detar
After orchestrating a brilliant escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Esther travels to America by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy family.
It's taken over a decade for psycho serial killer Esther to make a comeback and a prequel to Jaume Collet-Serra's brilliant original seemed completely implausible but if you can suspend your disbelief just long enough then 'Orphan: First Kill' will be an extremely enjoyable viewing experience for you.
It's no match for Esther's first outing but let's face it, it was never going to compete with the original 2009 film. So much of that film relied on the shocking revelation about Esther's past and who she really was. In this prequel we already know all of her secrets (well the BIG one anyway) and so already before any footage of 'First Kill' even rolls the film is fighting an uphill battle.
But something happened that I did not expect. 'First Kill' has it's own shocking twist, admittedly not quite on par with the OG but still, it slaps you in the face pretty hard and while I gasped audibly when it happened it sorta took me out of it and it became a completely different film afterwards.
'Orphan: First Kill' is set two years prior to the events of the first film and depsite some of the suggestive marketing, I wouldn't consider it an origin story. When we first meet Esther she is already a prisoner (sorry, a patient) of the Saarne Institute "medical facility" in Estonia and she is considered one of the most dangerous patients they have. We get a brief explanation about her previous crimes and then we finally get an intense meeting between Esther (referred to here as her birth name Leena) and the new psychologist, which eventually sets up her escape from the asylum. A few dead bodies later and Leena is now on her way to the US masquerading as missing kid Esther Albright.
Predictably Isabelle Fuhrman is fascinating again playing the character that really launched her career. She doesn't have as much to do here from a dramatic sense for obvious reasons but her performance offers up a bit more to her character overall and helps to highlight her intuitive abilities and her intelligence. Because we already know she isn't a child and is infact a 31 year old killer, the script allows Fuhrman to behave a little older without having to hold as much back. In the first film she was playing a child who clearly had some mental issues or previous trauma and much of the horror originated from her just being super creepy and agenda driven. Understandably 'First Kill' plays out quite differently and it shifts its tone completely after the new twist is revealed. I won't spoil it but it sort of drifts into a vague comedic space which is a huge risk from writer David Coggeshall. It's difficult to talk about without giving anything away but everything after the twist becomes less about Esther trying to safely impersonate the child of a wealthy family and more about her becoming a pawn in an entirely new game. Bizarrely, it actually manages to turn Esther into a character that we're rooting for. Once I got over the initial shock of the new twist I was able to enjoy the film for what it was.
I, like every other fan of the original film, had reservations about a prequel, especially considering Fuhrman's age now. How the hell can a woman in her mid-twenties successfully portray a 9 year old? Well it doesn't always work 100% but the technical magicians in charge of the cameras do a great job of hiding any of the glaringly obvious height issues and with the help of some nifty de-aging CGI and a young stand-in for wide shots, Director William Brent Bell (The Boy) actually pulls it off. Sure, there are a few scenes that stand out a bit but it's amazing what a few crafty camera angles and forced perspective can achieve.
The climax was a bit, well, anticlimactic. Fuhrman has great chemistry with her on-screen "Mother" and "Brother" played by Julia Stiles and Matthew Finlan, and some of the dialogue between the three is highly entertaining but after a pulsating turn of events leading into the finale the actual end sequence was a bit lacklustre. Weirdly, it felt like it was missing a few frames. Not sure if this was an editing issue or timing issue but it just didn't quite land for me. Despite this 'Orphan: First Kill' is a decent follow up, which I'd be shocked doesn't lead to a third film of some kind. Not quite sure what they could do for that one but one things for sure, Esther has become a bit of a horror icon now and icons never truly die in the horror genre.
- Gavin Logan
Signature Entertainment presents 'Orphan: First Kill' exclusively in cinemas August 19th