ORPHAN: FIRST KILL **** USA / Canada 2022 Dir: William Brent Bell. 102 mins
Here’s a belated prequel to what seemed a memorably twisted one-off that surprises by not going the lazy route. Director William Brent Bell (of THE BOY films and WER) and screenwriter David Coggeshall, realising they can’t outdo the bravura second half twist of ORPHAN, find a different, satisfying way of subverting our expectations of what initially appears to be a join-the-dots cash-in. And, the biggest asset of both films, now-twentysomething star Isabelle Fuhrman, authentically inhabits (with the help of some cinematic trickery) the (even younger) body of the same child-woman she so startlingly brought to life in 2009.
It unfolds in 2007, initially in Estonia – with the girl we previously knew as “Esther” revealed as Leena, the most dangerous patient in a suitably melodramatic and portentously lit only-in-the-movies institution. A disturbed, exceptional con artist in her thirties, but with the appearance of a pre-teen girl thanks to a growth disorder, she’s as gifted at manipulating and killing as she is as a pianist. Engineering a violent escape, she steals the identity of a missing girl (Esther) she discovers online, alters her appearance and inveigles her way into the girl’s family home, masquerading as Esther four years after her disappearance.
Up to a point, this conforms to formula: fake-Esther is marvellously horrid, drinking vodka on the plane to America, easily convincing her adopted Dad (Rossif Sutherland), creepily observing her new parents’ foreplay sessions and retaliating against her unpleasant new brother (“She’s got an accent now and dresses like Lizzie Borden”) by insulting his pals with the Russian version of “Fucking shit stain”. She also kills anyone who seems to be about to expose her secret. The script, however, takes a splendidly mean-spirited left turn that affords a welcome chance for Mom Julia Stiles (also the mother of the Antichrist in THE OMEN remake) to have a lot of fun, and unravels a suitably dark and grim backstory.
This twist turns the picture into a deliciously black-hearted satire of the sickness that lies beneath the wealthy American family unit, complete with stupidly unsuspecting patriarch and a splendidly obnoxious performance by Matthew Finlan as the snotty, entitled teenage son: “This is America. People like me matter”. Meanwhile, the script veers deliciously into camp via the assorted descriptions of the psychotic, unflappable Esther (mutant grifter, psycho dwarf, etc.) and a show-stopping homage to WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? involving a smoothie made of flax seeds, kale, orange juice and a dead rat.
It’s inventively shot by the talented Karim Hussain, makes great use of the FLASHDANCE theme “Maniac” and winds up with an appropriately melodramatic, fiery old-school Gothic climax. As before, Fuhrman steals every scene she’s in…and, in this company, has us rooting for her even when we can guess the outcome (such is the curse of a prequel).
Review by Steven West
ORPHAN & ORPHAN: FIRST KILL are also available in a Blu-ray box-set