A lot of things have changed since Orphan was released in 2009. Back in those days, there was no TikTok, Obama was in the first year of his presidency, and the (original) Harry Potter franchise was still rolling. Though it was something of an over-achiever at the box office, critics weren’t particularly impressed. Besides 13 years feels like a long time to wait for a follow-up to a movie that was a minor hit at best. But here we are regardless. Streaming exclusively on Paramount Plus, prequel Orphan First Kill is finally here.
In 2007, Leena Klemmer – an adult woman afflicted with a hormonal disease that has stunted her growth – escapes from a mental institution in Estonia. To escape the country, she adopts the identity of a missing American girl, Esther Albright. Now ‘home’ in America, Esther attempts to integrate and fool her ‘family’. But when Esther takes a liking to her father, she decides to stay with the family. And Esther will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.
Orphan First Kill …
Truth be told, Orphan First Kill doesn’t have much reason to exist. The 2009 Orphan had a pretty definitive ending. Anyone with a burning desire to know how an Estonian mental patient ended up in an American orphanage has probably moved on since 2009. Perhaps sensing the prequel’s lack of necessity, director William Brent Bell (The Boy, Wer) kicks things off with a suspenseful opening scene. In fact, Esther’s escape from the Estonian mental institution is probably the best filmed moment across both Orphan movies. Bell shows off some visual style while crafting a moment that elicits the same discomfort from a scene in the in original movie. Simply put, it’s a brutal, lean start to the thriller.
In fact, Esther’s escape from the Estonian mental institution is probably the best filmed moment across both Orphan movies.
Following Bell’s impressive introduction, Orphan First Kill settles into a rote creepy kid thriller. If you’ve seen enough of these movies you know what to expect. Naïve family members don’t suspect a thing while anyone raising a doubt about the ‘creepy kids’ suffers some awful fate. Eventually the main protagonist pieces things together before a vaguely thrilling cat-and-mouse game ensures in the third act. And Orphan First Kill looks to follows this stale formula in its underwhelming second act. Until Bell and screenwriter David Coggeshall decide not to subscribe to convention.
Movie Magic Lets Isabelle Fuhrman Return As Esther
If it wasn’t for Orphan’s campy twist, the original thriller likely would have languished in obscurity. As such, the prequel’s biggest challenge was how to get more mileage from a premise that’s already been spoiled. Somehow Bell and Coggeshall pulled out another trick for the prequel. And this time they didn’t wait until the climax. Nearly halfway into Orphan First Kill the prequel introduces an admittedly shocking twist. It’s a swerve that sets the story on a track that offers just enough freshness to a tired narrative to get to its already established endpoint. While it’s really only a superficial change to the subgenre, it allows Bell to compensate for the nature of any prequel with some impressive style and decent suspense.
Nearly halfway into Orphan First Kill the prequel introduces an admittedly shocking twist. It’s a swerve that sets the story on a track that offers just enough freshness to a tired narrative to get to its already established endpoint.
Like the original Orphan, Isabelle Fuhrman is half the fun of the prequel. Courtesy of some filmmaking magic, Fuhrman – who’s now almost the real age of her character – re-inhabits the childlike Esther. Whatever process was used to ‘de-age’ Fuhrman shouldn’t prove too distracting especially since the actress is clearly having fun in the role. Making her return to the horror genre after the 2006 The Omen remake, Julia Stiles also has some fun with a role that takes an unexpected turn away from the subgenre’s conventions. And Rossif Sutherland (Trench 11, Possessor, Hellions) finds himself stuck in the ‘unsuspecting protagonist’ role, which gives him little to do for most of the movie.
Orphan First Kill Exceeds Modest Expectations for Another Campy Entry
No one was ever going to mistake Orphan for a classic horror movie. And Orphan First Kill isn’t a massive course correction for the potential franchise. Nonetheless, the horror prequel is better than expected thanks to an out-of-leftfield twist at the midway point. The result is the same interesting contrast that defined the original. On one hand, Orphan First Kill plays out like a straightforward ‘creepy kid’ movie. Then Coggeshall’s twist completely shakes things up. With no shortage of style and fun performances from Fuhrman and Stiles, the prequel is another fun, campy take on a tired subgenre.