Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 38 minutes, Director – William Brent Bell
The story of how ‘Esther’ (Isabelle Fuhrman) escaped from an Estonian psychological hospital and ended up committing killing sprees in America.
The twist of 2009’s Orphan almost seems enough alone to have provided reason for the horror having become a much referred to modern classic. It’s this twist which new prequel Orphan: First Kill plays with throughout most of its run-time as we’re aware of the true state of psych-hospital escapee Lena (a returning Isabelle Fuhrman) as she escapes from Estonia and manages to travel to America under the guise of missing child Esther.
Much like the first film there’s a fair deal of the dramatic lining the run-time of this prequel, allowing the horror to linger in the background in shades of darkness. While initially planning on running away from the wealthy family who welcome her ‘back’ into their home she decides to stay after starting to form a connection with artist father Allen (Rossif Sutherland). However, the longer she stays the more tensions arise between her, mother Tricia (Julia Stiles) and son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan); this especially occurring when a trusted family child psychologist (Samantha Walkes) seems to notice inconsistencies in Esther after returning from being missing for so many years, and being found in Russia of all places.
The film rattles along its course fairly well, not really being disturbed by anything and generally makes for good viewing, although nothing overly challenging. It certainly plays with certain elements to build up from the original film – which this justifies being a sequel to rather well – although does occasionally risk being something of the same thing. Where things truly turn around is past the halfway point, just as we begin to enter the third act, and a real twist comes in, truly picking things up and creating a new stride for the narrative. It forms an intriguing blend that plays with not quite new elements, but certainly changes key and forms something slightly different and more engaging. You stop noticing some of the initial issues – there’s some clear camera trickery to hide the fact that the mid-20s Fuhrman is no longer a child which you stop to notice as you become more engaged in the film, although during some close-up fight scenes you can’t quite tell who’s who due to Esther’s height being taken into account.
Things play out more as a reverse-mystery piecing themselves together with a handful of dark revelations and intentions, particularly regarding the prying eyes of local detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) – who has been working on the disappearance case of the real Esther since she first went missing – playing against each other in close proximity. While different to what comes beforehand in the film there still feels a sense of tonal consistency meaning you don’t need to re-engage with the film at all. There’s simply a new layer of interest formed which keeps you in place throughout the remainder of the run-time – even if the final few minutes do feel rushed, especially in comparison to what we’ve seen in the build-up of the rest of the narrative.
But, what comes beforehand – and indeed runs throughout Orphan: First Kill – is a prequel which justifies itself as just that. Working as a darkly dramatic mystery winding in the elements of horror every now and then to work into Esther’s murderous actions and intentions. The film plays with our knowledge of what she’s like without building up masses of tension or presumptions of how things are going to turn out. It’s interesting viewing that’s held up by its third act developments and twists which work in favour of the narrative and the characters within it. Holding interest and engagement throughout and simply increasing that overtime thanks to the developments made.
While starting off as a likable horror prequel Orphan: First Kill gradually develops its elements of dark drama, playing with both its narrative and characters for greater interest and engagement from the audience.