Crime Drama

Review: ‘Orphan: First Kill’ is a Twisted Horror Prequel that Makes the Most of Its Limited Premise

August 18, 2022Ben MK

The best horror movies are usually the ones with shocking twists that no one sees coming. And when it comes to shocking twists, 2009's Orphan — the terrifying tale of a seemingly innocent 9-year-old who's actually a homicidal 33-year-old — certainly ranks as one of the most memorable in recent memory. Now that film's titular psychopath, Esther, is back for more insanely murderous mayhem. But does Orphan: First Kill succeed at surprising moviegoers with a twist as preposterous as its predecessor?

Set two years prior the original, the story begins in 2007 Estonia, at an isolated psychiatric facility called the Saarne Institute, where 31-year-old Leena (Isabelle Fuhrman, reprising her titular role from the first movie) is the most dangerous patient. An expert con artist, aspiring painter and a woman who suffers from a rare form of dwarfism that causes her to have the appearance of a 10-year-old, Leena has been yearning for her freedom, but is being permanently kept at Saarne due to her previous escape attempt, which resulted in the brutal deaths of an unsuspecting family. However, when a new art instructor arrives at the facility, Leena sees the opportunity to flee once again and seizes it, leaving bloody carnage in her wake before assuming the identity of a missing American girl named Esther Albright, whose family has spent the last four years searching for closure.

From that point, it's not long until Esther's mother Tricia (Julia Stiles) finds herself flying from Darien, Connecticut to Moscow, Russia to bring her long-lost daughter home for a family reunion with her husband Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and teenage son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). But when Esther's concerned former therapist, Dr. Segar (Samantha Walkes), and the police detective in charge of Esther's missing persons case (Hiro Kanagawa) start to grow suspicious, Leena decides to take matters into her own crafty little hands. Little does she realize, though, that Tricia is hiding a dark, disturbing secret of her own. And when the two women clash over their unique predicament, it will be a bloody battle of willpower and wits that determines who will survive.

Directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, The Boy and Brahms: The Boy II), Orphan: First Kill doesn't waste much time setting the devilish machinations of its narrative into motion, ratcheting up the body count early on rather than keeping viewers suffering to the midpoint in suspense. As for the inevitable twist this time around, fans of Jaume Collet-Serra's first installment will be pleased to hear that this prequel isn't merely a dutiful retread of familiar, tried-and-true territory. Instead, screenwriter David Coggeshall (Scream: The TV Series) manages to wring a decent amount of entertainment value out of the admittedly limited premise, with a good portion of the credit owing to Stiles, Fuhrman and their characters' warped mother-daughter relationship.

Of course, some might wonder just how convincing a twenty-something-year-old actress playing a pre-pubescent girl could be. Yet, while Orphan: First Kill does a surprisingly effective job making Fuhrman appear a decade her junior, part of the film's demented charm is undoubtedly the way it asks audiences to suspend their disbelief while keeping a straight face. Suffice to say, it's an illusion that doesn't always quite work as planned. Still, as far as straight-to-streaming movies go, at least this one wears its merits on its frilly, blood-stained sleeves.

Orphan: First Kill releases August 19th, 2022 from VVS Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for bloody violence, language and brief sexual content. Its runtime is 1 hr. 39 min.

You May Also Like