ORPHAN: FIRST KILL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: William Brent Bell

Stars: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Matthew Finlan, Hiro Kanagawa, Samantha Walkes.

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In 2009, the horror film Orphan introduced us to Leena Klammer (played by Isabelle Fuhrman), a psychopathic woman in her thirties who looks like a ten-year-old girl due to hypopituitarism, a rare glandular disorder that means she doesn’t really age. She was another of those demonic and creepy children that inhabit horror films, much like Damien in the classic The Omen and Brahms in The Boy. But one of the big problems with the original film was that it never satisfactorily explained how an orphan like Leena made her way from Estonia to the United States. Orphan: First Kill works as a prequel to address this plot hole.  

The film is set two years before the events of the first film and fleshes out events that were only alluded to in the original. It opens in the Saarne psychiatric facility in the snowy wilds of Estonia, where Leena (again played by Fuhrmann) is the most dangerous inmate. Quickly she escapes and poses as Esther Albright, the missing daughter of a wealthy family from Connecticut, whom she resembles. Esther is warmly welcomed home by her father Allen (Rossif Sutherland), an artist whose life has stalled since she supposedly went missing four years earlier. However, her mother, the socially conscious Tricia (Julia Stiles, from the Bourne series, etc), seems quite cold towards her, and their sixteen-year-old son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) is openly hostile.   

To help her deal with the trauma of the last four years Esther is taken to see Dr Segar, a child psychologist (Samantha Walkes), who begins to suspect something amiss. And then there is detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa), who investigated the initial disappearance and wants to learn more about what happened to Esther in the last four years. But Esther is not the only one hiding dark secrets and a tense game of cat and mouse develops between the wicked and homicidal Esther and the equally dangerous Tricia, who is prepared to do anything to protect her family.  A clever Sixth Sense-like twist halfway through the film turns events upside down and subverts audience expectations.  

Orphan: First Kill has been cleverly scripted by David Coggeshall (the recent Predator prequel Prey, etc) who revisits many of the ideas of the first film but manages to turn this sequel into an intriguing slow burn horror film about deceit and cold-blooded murder, albeit imbued with a streak of camp black humour. Taking over the reins from Spanish director Juame Collet-Serra is director William Brent Bell (The Boy, etc) who knows the tropes of the genre well and he keeps the suspense high throughout, developing a suitably creepy atmosphere. He handles the trashy material well and his direction is stylish. The cinematography from Karim Hussain (the recent remake of Firestarter, etc) is atmospheric, while Matthew Davies (tv series Hannibal, etc) delivers some rich production design for the Albright’s sprawling house. 

It’s interesting that Fuhrmann is still able to convincingly reprise her role as the evil Leena here, as she doesn’t seem to have aged much in eleven years – this is due mainly to some clever makeup, use of body doubles, and tricks with the camera and practical effects rather than CGI, although it is quite possible that she does have a painting stored away in the attic somewhere. She is totally committed to the role and has a very creepy and sinister presence as Esther, the deranged and pint-sized psychopath. Stiles, who also played the hapless and doomed mother in the remake of The Omen, is good and brings a suitably icy demeanour to her role as Tricia, and she chews the scenery as the film races towards its gloriously demented finale.  

Orphan: First Kill is trashy fun. It delivers some memorable moments and stands up well when compared to the original. 

★★★

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