"Orphan: First Kill" stars Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Matthew Finlan, Hiro Kanagawa, Jade Michael, and Samantha Walkes. Released on August 19, 2022, the film has the mother of a wealthy family encountering a shocking secret from her missing "daughter".
The film was directed by William Brent Bell, who also directed films such as "The Devil Inside", "The Boy", and "Separation". It is a prequel to the 2009 film "Orphan". There's always an intention to revive a specific movie in any form in the magical land of Hollywood, mainly from the horror genre. While it was welcoming to see something back in the spotlight, some of the long-awaited follow-ups prove that not every movie deserves the franchise treatment. Last weekend, another horror film fell victim to the franchise-hungry businesspeople's strategy. A horror movie that warns audiences not to judge a person by their appearance, especially if that person is a psychopath disguised as an orphaned child. 2009 saw the release of Jaume Collet-Serra's psychological horror film, "Orphan", which starred Isabelle Fuhrman as a young girl with a shocking secret. While it's not classified as a horror masterpiece, the movie did receive some positive remarks from critics and audiences for its scares and Fuhrman's portrayal of Esther. More than a decade later, a prequel to "Orphan" was announced, with Fuhrman reprising her role and a new director taking over for Collet-Serra while he's busy hanging out with the DC anti-hero, Black Adam. While I did enjoy "Orphan" for what it was, I had serious doubts about the prequel. For starters, it's another long-awaited follow-up to a movie that was released more than a decade ago, which usually spells disaster, with a few exceptions, of course. Then, you have its director, William Brent Bell, who's notorious for delivering some of the worst horror movies to date, in my opinion, including "The Boy" and its unnecessary sequel. I didn't bother watching his recent film, "Separation", last year because I knew it would be another dumpster fire. So my expectations for this movie were very low. Fortunately, it received a simultaneous release via theaters, video on demand, and Paramount+, so I didn't have to worry about wasting my money to see it only on the big screen. But did it make my experience with "First Kill" more tolerable? More importantly, was it another terrifying chapter worth telling? Let's find out.
The movie follows Leena Klammer (Fuhrman), a deranged woman with a rare hormonal disorder that gives her the appearance of a child. She escapes from a mental institute by killing anyone in her path. Klammer later discovers that she resembles an American girl named Esther Albright, who went missing years ago. She used this opportunity to pose as the lost girl to target their latest victims in the United States: a wealthy family consisting of artist Allen Albright (Sutherland) and his wife Tricia (Stiles). Moments after reuniting with their "lost daughter", Tricia notices something is different about her daughter. When Esther's true intentions slowly come to fruition, Tricia attempts to protect her family from the psychotic "child".
The first "Orphan" film was a delightfully creepy experience that benefited from Fuhrman's defining role as Leena and a shocking twist that changed how audiences see the child. Sure, it had elements from other psycho-child horror films like "The Omen", but it offers enough moments in its disturbing nature to make it a genuine and frightful treat for genre fans. This brings us to "First Kill", which depicts the early years of Klammer's murder spree before being put up for adoption in the first movie. With the film being a prequel, it had the objective to recapture the elements responsible for the first film's success while delivering something fresh and exciting to the narrative without feeling too repetitive, like most horror follow-ups. It was a difficult task for Bell considering his track record, but for some odd reason, he completed the latter part of the goal easily. As a result, "First Kill" is a reasonably watchable yet flawed prequel that could also work as a standalone horror thriller.
What makes "First Kill" stand apart from its predecessor is the story. At first glance, it looked like a retread of the first film, with Leena posing as a young girl to score with a married husband. It's a creepy premise that's also all kinds of messed up when peeking through its subtext. However, the plot unexpectedly flips itself over once the film reveals its surprising twist. It's hard to explain the twist without giving too much away, but I will say that it changes the overall experience entirely, which adds to its enjoyability.
The best part of this twist is how unexpected it was. "Orphan" had a shocking reveal that threw unsuspecting audiences off, with "Esther" being an older psychotic woman with dwarfism. It's a surprising and crazy addition that made us rethink movies involving mentally unstable children. "First Kill" offered a similar twist, but not how I expected it based on its plot. From what I saw, it made sense why they went in this direction since they can't provide the same narrative beat-by-beat. Because of this, the story felt refreshing enough to avoid tarnishing its predecessor.
Unfortunately, even with its reveal, the prequel doesn't offer much else to warrant its existence. It had the usual genre tropes we expect from a horror movie, let alone a sequel or prequel, but the number of unnecessary jump scares was fortunately minuscule. However, it came with the cost of removing the tension and frights that its predecessor was known for. To Bell's credit, though, the filmmaker did a decent job recapturing the first film's creepily aesthetic atmosphere and understanding Leena's unhinged nature. Sadly, it's not enough to cover his inability to provide fun scares to match its ludicrous premise. It's respectively tight in its runtime, which is 30 minutes shorter than the first film, and the kills are mildly disturbing. But everything else is pretty mediocre regarding its script and characters.
At least two main actors stood out from the film's entire cast. One of them is, unsurprisingly, Isabelle Fuhrman. Fuhrman captured Leena's horrific and unsettling essence in the first movie, and she's no different in "First Kill". Her captivating performance helped elevate the movie's average screenplay with ease. What makes it even better is the practical effects designed for her character. Nowadays, horror movies go down the easy route by using CGI effects to create their illusions, but not this movie. The production crew instead relied on makeup and forced perspective shots to portray Fuhrman's Esther as if she really has a hormonal disorder, with two female child stars serving as her body doubles. The result is an amazing illusion that's more believable than uncanny. Another actor I enjoyed was Julia Stiles, who portrayed Tricia. She was good at playing the usual grieving mother, but when the twist is revealed, she's on a whole new level, but in the best way.
Overall, "Orphan: First Kill" is a bearable yet subpar prequel that only benefited from its twist and cast and nothing else. Compared to Bell's previous works, this is the most tolerable movie he has helmed. It's no game-changer, but at least he understood the predecessor's creepy tone and Leena's psychotic personality. Aside from that, the movie is a watchable prequel that's far from shocking but more forgiving than the other unnecessary horror follow-ups. If you enjoyed the first film, there's no doubt you'll get something good out of this one. If not, you're better off adopting a different movie from the genre.