Orphan: First Kill (18) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. William Brent Bell, US, 2022, 99 mins.

Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa

Review by Colin Dibben

Dark, manic, brutal and twisty, this prequel to the 2009 shocker Orphan is probably for fans of the first film only, even though it is very enjoyable, much more so than you might expect.

Cast your mind back to 2009 and a quite disturbing film called Orphan, in which a little girl called Esther (Fuhrman) kills off the members of her adopted family one by one and then turns out to be a 33-year-old Estonian psycho with a growth deficiency condition. Esther died at the end. So, how to resurrect the character, 13 years on?

Orphan: First Kill fleshes out the back story outlined in the first film, of how Esther made it to the US and how her first host family ended up dying in a “tragic accident”.

Tricia Albright (Stiles) and her husband Allen (Sutherland) are grieving their disappeared, possibly abducted, daughter when the US embassy in Estonia tells them that a little girl matching her description has turned up over there. As Esther and the Albrights are brought together, detective Donnan (Kanagawa) gets suspicious and starts to investigate Esther’s background.

The film, thankfully, does more than flesh out Esther’s back story. It features a brilliant twist that spins Orphan: First Kill off in a nice, new direction. One that foregrounds grisly, dark humour – something that was utterly missing from the first film and made it a bit relentlessly grim for some viewers.

The twist comes at just the right time, just after optimal development of the expected elements of the back story. The twist could have been developed more – the cat-and-mouse game that ensues between Esther and ‘mother’ Tricia (Stiles, on great form and obviously enjoying herself) could have gone on for a few more rounds.

My guess is that the film makers felt on safer ground filling out the more ‘surface’ parts of the back story, such as Esther’s escape from an Estonian psychiatric institution. This way, we see Esther doing more of what she does best: frenzied killings with random sharp objects. Although I’m happy to watch this stuff, I think they made the right choice in minimising the kind of fatal violence visited on family members that was such a traumatic part of the first film.

Watching Orphan: First Kill you can’t help but think about how the team has overcome big legacy issues from Orphan. Obviously, Esther’s death in the first film is one issue.

But here’s another. Isabelle Fuhrman was really 10 years old in 2009. She was playing a 33 year old who is pretending to be 10. This doesn’t bear thinking about too much, given that at one point in Orphan she wears lingerie and frots herself on the lap of her adopted father.

Anyways, the logistical issue here is: how did they make 22-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman pass for 10, even 9 years old? Easy: they use child body doubles for full body shots.

However, the cuts and superimpositions of imagery this entails adds an extra uncanny element to already disturbing proceedings.


Orphan: First Kill is out at cinemas from 19 August 2022.