Let me begin by saying, “I loved this movie.” Let me follow that up by saying, “Not everyone is going to love this movie.” I don’t care.
In 2009 the world was gifted the film ORPHAN, about a well-meaning family who adopts a creepy young girl with many secrets. The film had no business being as good as it was and quickly earned its place among the creepy-children-of-horror sub-genre.
Now, 13 years later, the prequel no one knew we needed has delivered in the only way I think it possibly could have: bordering on camp. (I mean that in the best way possible.) As with the first film, if you can suspend your disbelief, sit back, and enjoy a bloody rollercoaster ride of deceit, manipulation, and murder, I promise you’ll enjoy ORPHAN: FIRST KILL as much as I did.
Usually, I would write about the premise of a film to at least give a little setup, but I won’t even do that this time. The movie takes place before the first film’s events; that’s all you need to know.
I can, however, tell you that Isabelle Fuhrman, who returns to play the sinister Esther, is remarkable. Having been only 11 years old when she starred in the original, the filmmakers utilize extremely effective camera angles, makeup, and CGI (in a rare case when de-aging technology looks convincing!) to trick us into thinking the actress is still a child and not a grown adult in her early 20’s. I had to remind myself repeatedly that she was not, in fact, an 11-year-old girl. Her stellar performance only enhances the incredible special effects. It’s a shame she hasn’t had more of a career since ORPHAN. She was terrific as hell in that movie and is just as splendid to watch in this one.
Speaking of killer performances, national treasure Julia Stiles (Esther’s manipulated maternal figure) is equally excellent as Fuhrman. The two share some entertaining scenes that might have come across as scenery-chewing and ridiculous – in the wrong actors’ hands. Stiles knows what kind of movie she’s in, and it seems like she loves being in it just as much as we love watching her in it.
Director William Brent Bell (STAY ALIVE, THE BOY, THE DEVIL INSIDE) always knows how to make a ridiculous horror movie scary, gripping, and fun. Just when I thought the movie’s pacing was losing me, said fun began, and I have to suspect that was on purpose. He lends his touch to surprisingly biting dialogue, a chuckle-worthy car-driving scene, and a final shot reminiscent of a cinematic horror masterpiece; I couldn’t help but smile in disbelief at what he was serving on the screen.
As with any horror film that uses manipulative plot devices on its audience, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL will have its naysayers. I just. Don’t. Care! I had a blast watching this batsh*t insane thrill ride, and if you’re willing to let the movie unfold and not ask too many questions, you will too.
ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is available in theaters and on Paramount+.