Review by Sean Boelman
The 2009 horror/thriller Orphan was generally maligned upon release, but due to a somewhat decent twist, survived over the years and has even been reevaluated in some circles. Thirteen years later, the “fans” can finally see the follow-up they’ve been waiting for in terms of the equally bad prequel, Orphan: First Kill.
Set before the events of the first film, First Kill follows Esther, a thirty-year-old woman with a rare genetic condition that makes her look like a child, as she makes a daring escape from a mental institution by impersonating the missing daughter of a wealthy American family. It’s a pretty ludicrous story, but then again, so was that of the first Orphan.
Weirdly, the movie really doubles down on the psychosexual aspect here, and it’s enormously uncomfortable (but not in a good way). It’s not that this film is glamorizing it, but it is still a plot device that seemingly goes too far for its own good. It’s definitely disturbing, although making something this off-putting for the sake of creeping out the audience is unwise.
This movie is severely missing a character to whom the audience can become attached. With the original film, there is Vera Farmiga’s character that the audience roots for once the twist is revealed. While one would think that Julia Stiles’s character would be her analog in this movie, it doesn’t work out that way at all, and as a result, the film feels overly cold.
Fuhrman is the highlight of this movie, as she was in the original, and considering that she has aged in the more than a decade since the first film’s release, some impressive trickery had to be done to allow her to play the character again. Her performance is the right balance of wacky and creepy to make this bizarre premise work.
The tension between Fuhrman and Stiles is perhaps even better than that between Fuhrman and Farmiga in the first movie. Individually, Stiles is certainly playing it much too big. She tries to steal the show when this should very firmly be Fuhrman’s starring vehicle. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t fare so well — especially Matthew Finlan, who is laughably bad in his role.
The first act of the film is Esther’s escape from the mental institution, and while it’s fun enough to watch, it’s also largely forgettable. The second half of the movie, which is effectively a game of cat-and-mouse between Fuhrman and Stiles, is much more entertaining, but it’s also far more far-fetched.
Orphan: First Kill is an attempt to capitalize on the supposed popularity of a horror movie that wasn’t all that good in the first place. Why they felt the need to make this movie over a decade later only to dump it unceremoniously, no one will ever know, but it’s not pleasant to watch.
Orphan: First Kill hits theaters, VOD, and Paramount+ on August 19.