Orphan: First Kill

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In 2009, Orphan was the umpteenth offshoot of The Bad Seed. That 1956 movie started the “evil child genre,” which would inspire classics like Village of the DamnedRosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist, and The Omen.   Orphan didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, so it certainly wasn’t something I thought would ever garner a sequel. I suspect it was largely forgotten save for a cult following until now. Despite its connection to the earlier installment, Orphan: First Kill is a standalone account. Except for the titular soul, none of the individuals from Orphan appear in this chronicle. It’s also a prequel, so I’d suggest that you’d best start with this chapter if you haven’t seen the first. In fact, do yourself a favor and skip the inferior 2009 film altogether. Even the critical and audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes support my opinion.

Orphan First Kill cleverly retrofits the foundation of the previous saga and surpasses the original. In this intro, Leena Klammer is a 33-year-old woman with a rare degenerative hormone disorder that causes dwarfism. The woman looks like a 9-year-old child. Leena is also a violent patient imprisoned in an Estonian mental asylum who has no conscience and lacks remorse. Leena escapes from the facility and tricks an unsuspecting family into thinking she is their long-lost daughter Esther Albright, who went missing four years prior. Mom Tricia (Julia Stiles), Dad Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and their teen son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) welcome her home, although skepticism arises.

For slightly over half of this brisk 99-minute movie, there is a predictability to every development that hampered my enthusiasm. David Coggeshall’s screenplay is based on a story by Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Initially, I mockingly enjoyed anticipating the likely outcomes. “Esther is hiding in that room,” I thought when newly arrived art therapy instructor Anna (Gwendolyn Collins) is locked in a confined space to keep her safe from the murderous Leena. “Now she’s in the trunk!” when Anna later drives away. It goes on and on like this. Then something happens at the 54-minute mark (I hit pause to verify) that is so unforeseeable that I stared at the screen in shock. It was as if the screenplay slapped me in the face and declared, “Just kidding! This is the real story.” From that point on, I was invested.

The production mines an unsettling milieu. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Possessor) admirably contributes to the eerie mood. The engineers creatively disguise 25-year-old actress Isabel Fuhrman to make her appear more believable as the child she’s pretending to be. Forced perspective and body doubles (Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee) assist in the ruse. Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles are talented actors. They elevate their characters with compelling performances. Sadly the climax ultimately falls victim to more hackneyed convention. Still, the middle section redeems this entertaining thriller.

08-23-22

6 Responses to “Orphan: First Kill”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    I was howling w laughter in the theater around the middle (I was pretty sure I was the only one seeing it) and by the end was convinced it works better as black comedy than horror (de Palmas black dahlia works better as black comedy than noir I’d argue) … really enjoyed but still love the original

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I could’ve written the 1st half myself. So predictable. Laughable at how much we announced the scenes as they happened. Then 1/2 way through, a twist that blew my mine. I wish the ending had matched that excitement. 3 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

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