Orphan: First Kill

Directed by: William Brent Bell
Distributed by: Paramount Players

Written by Michael Clawson

The plot twist of the 2009 horror movie “Orphan,” starring Isabelle Fuhrman, was a doozy: two parents find out that the young European girl they adopted is not actually a little girl, but rather a thirty-plus year-old woman with psychopathically violent tendencies and a rare health condition, one that stunts her physical growth and keeps her looking like she isn’t a day over ten. Directed by William Brent Bell and scripted by David Coggeshall, “Orphan: First Kill” is a prequel to the 2009 film, and while it begins by frankly acknowledging Esther’s condition, homicidal history, and con artistry, “First Kill” packs a worthy surprise of its own.

Reprising her role as the murderous Esther, Isabelle Fuhrman outshines her fellow cast mates. Her story begins in 2007 in Estonia, where Esther escapes from a psychiatric institution, leaving an extensive trail of blood behind her. She steals the identity of a missing girl from the US, and is taken “home” to Connecticut by the girl’s affluent parents (Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland), who also have a teenage son (Matthew Finlan). Turns out, however, that the family has a dark secret they’re hiding, and the reappearance of their supposed daughter puts them at risk of being exposed. Esther thus finds herself in a dire predicament of her own making.

Where Fuhrman delights is in pivoting between Esther’s adopted persona and malicious true self. She’ll flash a fiendish smirk or drop an F-bomb just before reverting to sweet, doll-like innocence a moment later. It’s good fun, especially thanks to clever camerawork that shows Fuhrman in close-ups and a different, clearly much younger and shorter actress when we see Esther from behind, the better to emphasize Esther’s childlike appearance to those around her.

The aforementioned twist, however, is more satisfying in concept than execution. It arrives haphazardly and without the wallop, it should have brought. Campy gestures that follow the reveal aren’t unwelcome, but the movie feels somewhat unwilling to fully commit to its own ludicrousness. Even so, as far as villain origin stories go, you could do far, far worse than “Orphan: First Kill.”

“Orphan: First Kill” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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