★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by William Brent Bell
Wait . . . So a 24-year-old actress is reprising a role that she played as a 12-year-old in which she is playing a preteen? How does that work? Oh, it’s Isabelle Fuhrman playing Esther from Orphan again? Hmm, that movie was pretty fun, so color me intrigued . . .
Prepare yourself for a lot of lunacy and absurdity, and arm yourself with a heaping helping of willing suspension of disbelief, and you should have an entertaining time with Orphan: First Kill, the prequel to 2009’s Orphan. That film dropped the jaws of many a viewer with its twist and featured a fun performance by a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman in the now-iconic fear-fare role of Esther, who — spoiler alert for a 13-year-old film (but no spoilers ahead for this new entry) — was a thirtysomething escaped mental patient posing as a 9-year-old child to worm her way into an established family. If you are wondering how Fuhrman, now in her early twenties, could play an even younger version of Esther, read on.
Orphan: First Kill kicks off with Esther — named Leena at this point — escaping from an Estonian psychiatric hospital and doing some online research at the home of a freshly killed victim to randomly choose an American family whose young daughter Esther has been missing for a few years. Going through authorities, Esther is “reunited” with her socialite mother Tricia (Julia Stiles), artist father Allen (Rossif Sutherland), and fencing hotshot brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). Esther’s disappearance has, naturally, caused some trauma within the family that begins to seemingly heal itself with Leena/Esther’s return, but some officials are skeptical about the returning Esther. Suspense builds and bodies drop courtesy of faux Esther, but a big reveal about two-thirds in sends the film into a whole other level of loopy, which I had a blast with.
Fuhrman and Stiles are both delightful to watch in Orphan: First Kill, and their performances and chemistry together are reason enough to recommend the film. Director William Brent Bell and his special effects crew do their best to hide Fuhrman’s age, including using child doubles and makeup, but her no longer being even a teenager shows more than once. This provides a sense of the uncanny but can also tend to make viewers focus on the seams of this conceit showing.
The film steamrolls to a rather guessable conclusion — as a prequel, that’s no real surprise — but the ride getting there is a roller coaster of credulity straining, and wondering what could possibly be coming next. From gothic horror elements to gore, Orphan: First Kill unabashedly does everything it can to entertain.
Review by Joseph Perry
Paramount Pictures will release the horror/thriller film ORPHAN: FIRST KILL in theaters, on Digital, and streaming on Paramount+ on August 19, 2022.