In 2009, a very good horror movie called Orphan was released. It tells the story of a married couple who adopt a young Russian girl named Esther. She exhibits scary behaviors, including flirting with her adoptive father and staging “accidents” that leave other people injured or dead. The plot twist at the end – and this is obviously a spoiler alert - is that Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman with a hormonal disorder that has limited her physical growth, making it easy to pass as a child. Stylish and eerie, the film was a moderate box office hit that really found its audience on DVD.
Such cult popularity was enough to merit a prequel all these years later. Unfortunately, Orphan: First Kill is the exact opposite of its predecessor. It's a dumb, drab chiller that lacks the intensity of the original. Director William Brent Bell's past films include the clunkers The Devil Inside, Stay Alive, and Separation, and he once again demonstrates a fundamental lack of ability to stage good scares.
Isabelle Fuhrman returns as Esther (real name Leena Klammer), a part of the problem we'll get to in a minute. The year is 2007, and she escapes from a mental hospital in Estonia, in bloody fashion, of course. After looking up missing children, she notices a resemblance to the daughter of a wealthy American family and decides to pass herself off. Mom Tricia (Julia Stiles) and dad Allen (Rossif Sutherland) work to help her acclimate, whereas brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) displays a hint of resentment. Before long, Esther's wicked ways return, as she acts seductively around Allen and dispatches a few supporting characters.
The first hour of Orphan: First Kill is mostly just dull. We've seen Esther's modus operandi before, and the film doesn't do anything new with it. Bell shows the gory impact of her slayings, without infusing them with any actual suspense. Of course, since we start off already knowing Esther is a psychopath, the tension that the original had is non-existent, which doesn't help matters. We're left with endless scenes of her prowling around, or carrying out murders that can be seen coming a mile away.
The last 35 minutes offer a beyond-stupid plot twist that I didn't believe for a second. This was presumably done to offer a “pull the rug out from under the audience” shocker akin to Orphan's, except that it feels like the machination it is. Nothing about the twist improves the movie or makes it any scarier. In fact, First Kill becomes borderline laughable in spots because the story hasn't properly laid the groundwork for the development. It literally comes out of nowhere, tossed in simply so there could be a “gotcha” moment.
The biggest problem, by far, is having Furhman play Esther and keeping the time frame close to the original's. In the first film, she was a child playing a woman – a concept viewers could buy into because we all know disorders of that nature do exist. Here, though, she's a woman who is supposed to look like a child, and that isn't believable at all. (This is not her fault as a performer, it's merely the fault of biology.) Furhman looks like an adult. There's no way around it. That basic fact undermines the entire concept of the picture. Bell tries to circumvent the matter by 1.) having her stand lower than her co-stars; and 2.) using an obvious child double for faraway shots where we can't see her face. Both methods are incredibly distracting, only serving to reinforce the fact that the movie is trying to pass off a 25-year-old woman as a 9-year-old girl.
Orphan: First Kill would have been smarter to take place after the original and have Esther pose as a teenager. Furhman would have been credible in that scenario. Instead, it takes the worst possible route, then proceeds to put the character into a mundane plot completely lacking in fright. This is about as pitiful as prequels come.
out of four
Orphan: First Kill is rated R for bloody violence, language and brief sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.