In the current age of prequels, sequels and spin-offs galore, it’s easy to roll your eyes at yet another unwanted reboot. The horror genre is no stranger to a ridiculous rebrand. In recent years we’ve bared witness to a Halloween re-franchise, a Don’t Breathe sequel and even another round of Ghostface in the Scream reboot (to name a few). Some reinvent the story, expanding on the formulas and commentary of the originals; others miss the mark entirely, opting for a lousy, often rushed execution of great horrific stories. As far as prequels go – Orphan: First Kill is an outlandish, killer experience.
The original Orphan film, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, was released in 2009, and with it, the murderous dwarf Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) was unleashed onto the world. Following your typical heterosexual nuclear family on the hunt for another child to add to the mix, the family adopts Esther, a creative and charming nine-year-old girl. The first film is a borderline cult classic with its shocking reveal of Esther’s actual age and agenda – she is not a child, but rather a grown woman suffering from “proportional dwarfism” ready to slice any wife up in a bid for their husband.
Orphan: First Kill marks the return of Esther and her unpredictable, psychotic ways. Director William Brent Bell breathes a new lease of life into this Freudian nightmare as the film attempts to shed light on the origins of the crazed child-like killer. Set in 2007, two years before the events of the original Orphan flick, Esther finds herself locked away in an Estonian mental institution. The Saarne Institute is home to all kinds of crazy, so naturally, it’s not long before evil Esther manipulates and murders her way to freedom. Already it’s established by this point that this isn’t her first kill but rather her first time using the Esther alias.
Once on the run and already having assumed the identity of Esther Albright, a missing American child, our dreadful villain slithers her way into the arms of a seemingly loving, caring family. This will feel all too familiar for fans of the original slasher as she attempts to gaslight her way into her adoptive father’s arms. This is where things take a turn as the film works to subvert all expectations, using the original formula to craft an almost tedious foundation. Using the repetitive family narrative, First Kill is aware of its limitations, resulting in a silly slasher that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Genre tropes are turned on as twists and turns take Esther and the audience on a wicked, wild ride.
A secret thirty-something-year-old woman posing as a little girl ready for adoption is many things, but within the realm of horror, it makes for an insanely camp viewing experience. First Kill holds absolutely nothing back, using almost every minute of the 90-minute runtime to entertain beyond expectation. This prequel is everything a good prequel should be – a character study. Mass amounts of screen time are given to Esther, allowing us not only to get to know her but radically root for her as the tables are turned, and the Albright family reveals there is more than meets the eye when it comes to this perfect suburban family.
The practical effects only add to the sheer camp nature of Esther’s villainous origin story. Camera trickery, body doubles and some questionable CGI glaze the film with a goofy yet captivating aura. Overall, First Kill is a twisted trip from start to finish that is bound to satisfy fans of the original.
Orphan: First Kill is available to stream on Paramount+
by Kelsie Dickinson