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ORPHAN: FIRST KILL Is a Puzzling Non-Origin Prequel

Last year, the modest 2009 psychological horror film Orphan received an unexpected prequel that takes us a couple of years prior, as a twisted woman with a child-like appearance torments a family. In the end, Orphan: First Kill wasn’t the follow-up we asked for, nor is it the one we needed.

In 2007, Leena (Isabelle Fuhrman) is confined to a psychiatric hospital in Estonia. A rare disorder has left the 31-year-old with stunted growth and a youthful face. Her condition allows her to manipulate others who underestimate her capabilities — and one night, she escapes.

While looking through the internet for a missing child she resembles, she finds a girl named Esther, who disappeared four years ago. She soon claims to be the missing girl and is reunited with her wealthy family.

As she gets acquainted with her new life, the mother (Julia Stiles) begins to have suspicions, as Esther has seemingly changed so much in just a few years. But her growing confusion will lead to more horrific revelations than expected.

Though I wouldn’t rate it high on any lists, I’m a fan of the original Orphan. While it was a mild film overall, it had some memorable sequences, and Esther’s true identity was a decent twist. Like many, I certainly didn’t think there would be room for a continuation, but I was curious how they’d choose to expand the story.

Unfortunately, Orphan: First Kill feels pretty off from the start. It never captures a level of heightened stakes. There’s never really a moment that builds a sense of dread or tension. And it continues to reuse the same tropes we’ve seen — though I’ll give it a bit of credit later in my review.

Overall, I found it to be an odd choice, to do a prequel story rather than a sequel. Esther’s fate was apparent in the first film, but that’s never stopped the horror genre from reviving its villainous leads. Given Fuhrman is now 13 years older, it feels weird placing the character several years earlier rather than picking up where she’d be in the present day.

The de-aging is well done, and they use clever tricks with forced perspective and body doubles to get that child-like height, but I couldn’t help but wonder why this was the choice. It’s not even a standard origin story, so a sequel would have served better and excused Fuhrman’s obvious age progression.

There’s also a lack of weight to the general story. Having the film be titled “first kill” is meaningless, as it’s clear this isn’t the first, and she racks up a body count rather quickly. Even with that, there’s no build-up of suspense, nor are there memorable kills — they often play out like a lifeless video game.

Just as lifeless is the script, never pushing itself far enough. It has a decent twist midway through that surprised me, so credit is given for subverting expectations. But it doesn’t line up with any of the behavior of the character at the hands of said twist.

Orphan: First Kill has aspects that feel clever and just on the edge of something, but it’s rather dull and forgettable. I’ll commend Fuhrman for her performance, as I think she does a great job embodying the character again — and you can tell she’s enjoying herself in the role. But I’m not sure we needed a pseudo-anti-hero-esque prequel story for Esther.

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