‘Orphan: First Kill’ Movie Review: Horror Prequel Is All Over the Place

Orphan: First Kill is the type of horror movie prequel that wants to embrace its roots but also forge its own path. It’s a respectable goal, although incredibly difficult to execute. Orphan: First Kill bites off a bit more than it can chew, haphazardly mixing tones without concern for balance.

'Orphan: First Kill' 2.5 star rating

‘Orphan: First Kill’ takes a few steps back from the 2009 original

'Orphan: First Kill' Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther wearing a blue jacket with red bows in her hair. She's touching a gold ornament on a wooden mantle.
Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther | Steve Ackerman/Paramount Pictures

This horror prequel takes the story back two years in the past to Estonia in 2007. Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman), who would later go by Esther Albright, is a 31-year-old woman who has a condition that makes her look like a 10-year-old. She puts together a plan to escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility. However, she plans to take her life far away from the country and never look back.

Orphan: First Kill finds Esther traveling to America, posing as the missing daughter of an American family. She seemingly found the perfect life away from Estonia, but her security is short-lived. Esther must navigate the family including increasingly odd dynamics with mother Tricia (Julia Stiles), father Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).

Director William Brent Bell steps further into camp

Orphan: First Kill places emphasis on new beginnings. Director William Brent Bell plays with perspective, introducing the audience to Esther’s history and the threat that the Estonian facility already knew her to be. She bonds with Allen over painting, sharing deeper discussions surrounding the hidden layers in his art style. Screenwriter David Coggeshall plays with this concept through each character’s interactions between their actions and their true intentions.

The Albright family fractured after Esther’s sudden disappearance. However, her “reappearance” offers a new beginning for the family. Each family member responds differently to her appearance, causing inevitable friction. Tricia and Allen continue their extravagant life with high-profile social events, while Gunnar seeks to enjoy his young adult activities with friends. Esther doesn’t fit too well into this whole equation, but this is all a means to an end for her.

However, Coggeshall doesn’t rehash the 2009 original in Orphan: First Kill. The audience is already aware of Esther’s true age, so he can’t rely on the big reveal. Rather, the film introduces a new side of Esther, as she encounters a very different family than in the predecessor. Its twists are truly unpredictable, but are they good storytelling?

‘Orphan: First Kill’ doesn’t quite find its footing

'Orphan: First Kill' Julia Stiles as Tricia looking scared, walking through a bedroom holding out a kitchen knife
Julia Stiles as Tricia | Steve Ackerman/Paramount Pictures

The movie’s title implies that this is the first time Esther draws blood. However, that assumption would be false. Orphan: First Kill places audiences in a world where the criminal already has a pattern to her deathly pattern. The title is flashy, but to deliver on its promise, it should follow her first victims. This particular prequel doesn’t tell the audience much that they don’t already know about Esther or her journey.

After 13 years since the original, Orphan: First Kill is responsible for making Fuhrman still look like a child. As a result, there wasn’t any getting around using visual effects to make her look younger. The final product is a mixed bag, with some shots looking surprisingly realistic. However, it’s particularly inconsistent in certain lighting.

Fuhrman and Stiles deliver capable performances, each contributing something unique to the movie. The film dives into full comedy and camp at a certain point, offering plenty of unexpected laughs. However, it occasionally wants to be taken seriously in the vein of the original. Once it indulges in comedy, it isn’t ever able to go back, resulting in a tangled tonal focus. Orphan: First Kill tells the wrong story that doesn’t fulfill the title’s promise.

Orphan: First Kill hits select theaters, digital platforms, and Paramount+ on Aug. 19.

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