A Dull Yet Creative First Kill
Orphan: First Kill is a solid homage to its original sleeper hit, 2009’s Orphan. The 2022 prequel introduces an interesting and fresh plot. And its leading lady is, of course, back and even better than ever. However, even with Isabelle Fuhrman’s strong points — and that iconic, bone-chilling stare — the movie doesn’t scare viewers as much as the first film did. Perhaps it’s because we know we’re now looking at a real grown actress who is portraying a grown woman pretending to be a child. But Orphan: First Kill still doesn’t slash its way into our brains, even through its jump scares.
The only aspect keeping it afloat is its brilliantly unanticipated twist, which occurs in the middle of the story rather than acting as a concluding climax like the 2009 movie has. Aside from that, it feels as though the principal character is being restrained from showing off her true skills in playing the manipulative mastermind.
Orphan: First Kill introduces us to how Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) created her future self. It’s 2007 and we see her in a psychiatric institute for past violent behavior — which we watch unfold soon enough as she easily slices and dices her victims. She then figures out a way to escape Estonia and travel to America by impersonating a little girl named Esther, presumed to be abducted and has been missing for four years. After she decides to stay with the wealthy family, “Esther” and her mother soon go head-to-head for reasons the audience never sees coming.
The Bloody Beginning
Orphan fans knew what to expect, as did general audiences. We know we’re about to watch a severely disturbed woman pretending to be a young child with murderous and even seductive intentions. So, it doesn’t surprise viewers when they see Leena (a.k.a Esther later on) ravage her way out of the Estonian facility. The bloody mess isn’t scary, unfortunately, although Fuhrman does her absolute best to nail the violence. And she does. Fuhrman doesn’t only revive her original character, whom she played when she was just a pre-teen: Fuhrman incorporates an even subtler spark to Esther. She doesn’t need to try so hard to be terrifying. She just is, using that iconic glare of hers that she invented over a decade ago to her advantage.
Now that Fuhrman is an adult, it feels like she and Paramount used that as an upper hand. It’s even more disturbing seeing the clearly defined facial features embodying a little girl. That wicked smile Fuhrman maintains complemented by her wide-eyed expression cuts into the soul. Even though we don’t know what her next move is, we’re aware of what she’s capable of.
Once the cop gets too close to her, Esther starts to show off her amateur side. She’s not yet the mastermind genius we met in 2009. Esther makes a few mistakes when she utterly fails to effectively impersonate the girl she’s claiming to be. After the detective sticks his nose too far in the scheme, Esther tries to stop him. And while she does, she leaves a few doors open, a trail of breadcrumbs for her mother, Tricia Albright, (Julia Stiles) to possibly uncover the truth.
It’s after Esther tracks down the cop when we watch a totally new film unfold out of nowhere.
The Extremely Unexpected Twist
When we hear a movie has a “twist,” we’ve seen it all before — who on earth would come up with a murderous child who is a grown woman trying to seduce older men and get rid of their families in the process? But that’s not the kicker here, since that’s now old news to us.
First Kill’s apparent twist happens almost effortlessly between Tricia, Esther and the older brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). When it’s revealed what kind of story we’re actually watching, it’s almost strenuous to try to keep up with what’s being said. You might even feel the need to rewind the last 30 seconds of this tell-all scene. Esther’s face even looks slightly intimidated, as she and the audience must grapple with the fact that, for once, she might not be in control of the situation anymore. Maybe she never was.
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This is precisely where Stiles shines through. Who is Tricia? What really happened to her “missing” daughter, Esther? And why does Gunnar immediately act cold toward his “little sister” when they all reunite upon “finding” her?
There are multiple questions the viewer has after each scene. Why is Gunnar such a prick to the point where we don’t blame Esther when she tells him to “go fuck yourself”? Is it really just teen angst as the older sibling, or is there something else here? And since Tricia is clearly catching onto Esther’s ruse, why doesn’t she seem a little afraid of this so-called child? Maybe she is at first, but that’s not convincing for viewers when we see her waltz into Esther’s room more than once without hesitation.
These questions are quickly answered within a matter of minutes, which has its upside and downside. The advantage is that this invites the audience into an even more thrilling ride than they had bargained for. The disadvantage, though, is that the film appears and sounds confusing at different points because of its fast pace.
After the truth is revealed in the Albright family, we watch the games begin between Esther and Tricia. While the initial spark is when Tricia unravels some startling revelations, the actual onslaught of the rivalry doesn’t commence until after Esther discovers a poisonous switch (literally).
This cat-and-mouse chase between the two women is almost comical to watch, meanwhile you’re wondering if you’re insane for even thinking this whole thing is funny. In a weird way, Esther and Tricia’s wretched, aggressive tension is competitive, petty, and, yes, pretty entertaining. It’s more than the stereotypical cat fight. We’re watching two differently disturbed women be at odds with each other after the twisted truth comes out.
All in all, these games feel similar to Isabelle’s Hunger Games character, Clove, who enjoys killing as a hobby, or rather a sport. We’re watching Tom and Jerry butt heads, but it’s up to the viewer’s discretion to figure out who’s the real large cat and who’s the small mouse running for their life.
As a prequel film, Orphan: First Kill was tasked with setting the stage for its predecessor (which is really its future). The ending perfectly sets up the story for 2009’s Orphan to pick up on. Fans will recall Vera Farmiga’s character discovering that, not only was Esther in a psychiatric institute, but she had also lived with a family beforehand. Now, we find out what happened to that family.
The only problem is the setup is at the end, which feels rushed. After we see the Albright family meet their respective fates, we blink and it’s over. Every film needs to be cut for time purposes, but First Kill’s ending could have included more intricate, better-calculated details.
Overall, Orphan: First Kill lacks solid substance. We’re not left shivering as we once did with the initial 2009 psychological horror. Instead, the audience can easily sleep soundly knowing that Esther isn’t as much of a threat in comparison to other “normal” people. It’s not Fuhrman’s fault her new Esther just isn’t as scary as she once was. In fact, Fuhrman brings everything she’s got to the role and, through maturity, approached it with a better understanding of the uncomfortable sexual undertones and uncontrollable rage Esther is ingrained with.
Not only that, but also the body doubles Fuhrman worked to recreate that short little girl stature that the actress clearly doesn’t possess anymore. It’s truly a sight to see how tiny First Kill reveals Esther really is. It makes Esther’s behavior and actions even more eerie because of how innocent she appears.
Nonetheless, Orphan: First Kill just feels like it was cut into pieces way too fast. Instead of a natural flow, we feel as if it’s a broken, jagged sculpture that is still cool to look at despite its lack of force. The prequel is a unique movie, but just be prepared to feel a little deprived because that’s unfortunately what First Kill feels like it’s missing something. And no, it’s not Esther.
Orphan: First Kill (2022) Official Paramount Pictures Trailer
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