When I first heard about Orphan: First Kill, the prequel being created for a movie I really enjoyed, I rolled my eyes. The fascinating and unique movie didn’t need to be unearthed and tampered with. Isabelle Fuhrman was 11 when the initial movie was made and now she was a grown woman at 25 years old. When the project was handed to William Brent Bell, I lost even more interest as I was very much not a fan of The Boy and its sequel. I sort of forgot about the project until it popped up seemingly out of nowhere last week and due to my love of the original, I decided to give it a shot, entering with very few expectations.
Orphan: First Kill follows our beloved orphan ‘Esther’ (Isabelle Fuhrman) as a patient in the mysterious Saarne Institute, where she plots her grand escape, finding safety with a family still grieving over the disappearance of their young similar-looking daughter. As she gets closer with the family and inconsistencies seem to mount, particularly with her newfound mother Tricia (Julia Stiles), Esther is forced to outthink everyone around her in order to stay anonymous and her limits are tested, as well as the limits of her new host family.
Orphan: First Kill keeps things fresh in a world of rehashed storylines.
I am a firm believer in the reinvention of the wheel when it comes to prequels and sequels, particularly in the case of Orphan where the entire movie leads up to the twist of Esther being a grown woman. If a similar story played out where a family discovered slowly that she was a maniacal adult instead of their sweet orphan child, it would feel like a worn-out retread of the same film we have already seen over a decade ago. For the first act of the film, it certainly felt like that’s what we were going to get. All of a sudden, this movie explodes into a twist-laden foray into camp, gore, and astonishing moments. I truly was shocked and left eating my words when this movie came to an end. If you’re someone whose trepidation lies in the repetition of the franchise, I’d encourage you to give this a shot. It is a worthy addition that sets itself apart enough to warrant its’ story being told.
The story in Orphan: First Kill focuses on important parts of Esther’s background that the audience of the original film would be naturally curious about: the Saarne Institute, how she ended up in an orphanage to begin with, her first family and how they were chosen, etc. It did answer many burning questions that viewers themselves may have forgotten they had all those years ago. It also shifts the audience in a unique position going from not knowing and uncovering Esther’s secret in the initial film, to knowing and watching others have to discover it in this sequel. This shift in making the audience the secret keeper goes a long way to keep the story feeling fresh and rejuvenated to the viewer.
I was especially impressed with the direction of William Brent Bell here. He decided early on that he was going to use very little CGI to transform Isabelle Fuhrman back into her 11-year-old self, a risky venture in and of itself. He instead decided to use practical effects, lighting, forced perspective, and body doubles to accomplish this herculean task. This ended up being a phenomenal decision. Fuhrman absolutely transcends back into the role effortlessly, selling the audience immediately on Esther, and at no point was it ever a distraction. The direction actually uses audience expectations against them, slowly building into exactly what the viewer thinks they are getting before popping the top off the entire thing and sending the third act into a fiery climax.
The prequel does, of course, bring about some inconsistencies with the plot which are hard to fully discuss without going into full-blown spoiler territory. The tone also suffers, especially at the precipice of the twist when the movie shifts from psychological horror to campy action horror in seconds. The film also can struggle visually at times, it looks flat and dismal most of the run time with most of the attention being seemingly focused on the process of working around Fuhrman’s age. However, all of that being said, Stiles and Fuhrman have a blast throughout this film, particularly in the third act, and its insane twist is enough to get a recommendation from me, just for originality itself.
Orphan: First Kill can be seen in select theaters and on Paramount+.
Have you seen this fiery prequel to Orphan? Would you recommend it? Sound off in the comments.