How do you do a sequel to Orphan when you already know the twist and (spoiler alert on a 10+ year old film) the antagonist is dead? The unoriginal, quick-to-churn-out version would be just to repeat the same story with a different family, and a different orphan, and perhaps a different outcome, and hope the audience doesn’t notice – or doesn’t care. Orphan: First Kill does much better than that, and substantially so.
First Kill, first off, is a bit of a misnomer, as this does not show off “Esther’s” first kill, but it is a prequel. The film starts off in Estonia in 2007, when Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is known as Leena, a 30-year-old woman imprisoned in an asylum for the criminally insane. She is known as the most dangerous patient, and came to the asylum two years ago, after she wormed her way into a family, appearing as a sympathetic runaway. That lasted until she murdered the family.
Leena murders her way out of the asylum and into the home of the new (and short-lived) art therapist Anna. It is here that Leena indulges in some wine (she is 30, after all), and does some research on missing kids online until she finds one that she could pass for… Esther. She dresses the part and places herself in a playground, alone at night. When a police officer finds her and asks where her parents are, she simply says, “America.”
Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen (Rossif Sutherland) Albright are stunned and overjoyed to discover their daughter, taken four years ago, has been discovered in Russia, while Gunnar (Matthew Finlan), their teenage son, is less excited. All they are told is that she was kidnapped by a woman and passed off as the abductor’s own child, and to be prepared for changes. Yet no one questions that Esther seems remarkably well-adjusted after her ordeal. For unknown reasons, Tricia goes alone on the family’s private jet to pick up Esther and take her back to the family’s lush estate home. Leena chose the right family to fake her way into.
Orphan: First Kill does have a fairly interesting twist—not necessarily a surprising one, but a well-suited one that reveals itself early and plays itself out in a way that made the rest of the movie genuinely fascinating. If you watched the original Orphan, you know what happens to this family, but it is nice to see how we got here. Isabelle Fuhrman does a wonderful job reprising her role as Esther. It has been over a decade since she first played the role, and yet as soon as she ties her hair into pigtails, you still believe she is a little girl.
For the gorehounds out there, First Kill is significantly bloodier than its predecessor. There is a higher body count, and the kills are much more gruesome. Director William Brent Bell certainly does not hold back, but First Kill also is not gratuitous, as this is all done in service to the story. But if you like a lot of blood in your horror movies, you will be pleasantly surprised with this one.
For a movie that was never expected to have a sequel and never planned on being a franchise, Orphan: First Kill was a pleasant surprise. First Kill is a smart, tight film that fits perfectly into what the first Orphan film set up over a decade ago.