Strip off the shocking twist in Jaume Collet-Serra‘s nasty late-aught thriller, Orphan (2009), and credit Isabelle Fuhrman less for her iconic role as Esther. You’ll get, at best, a campy story that doesn’t restrain from being overly gory for its taste. It’s a pulpy fiction that could go as provocative as it’s manipulative in punishing any thought of perversion in a way to subvert retro psycho-giddy tropes.
A follow-up to this sleeper cult hit will have to add extra layers or, at least, any cheaper shocker to reach the same height. Yet, Orphan: First Kill has something else in mind. By doing a prequel, instead of moving the story forward, the story has lost one of its most crucial assets — the twist; yet, Alex Mace (who still gets a writing credit) is well aware of this shortcoming. In lieu, this pseudo origin story (technically, it’s not about the first kill committed by a 33-year-old hag posing as a child) is eager to exploit the only X-factor left, Fuhrman.
Fuhrman reprises her iconic role, albeit donning a different name, Leena Klammer, a.k.a. the living plot twist. After a head-scratching asylum escape, she manages to flee to the US and begins her first (overseas) kill. There, what seems to be a deja vu of the first film is destined to be as Leena, now assuming yet another identity, cons her way to Julia Stiles‘ established American family — the one whose fates we know best in the 2009 film.
After some identity changes and ruthless kills, it becomes crystal clear that Fuhrman’s character (with whatever names she goes by) is bigger than the story itself.
Director William Brent Bell, with first-hand experience in making cinematic children of hell (with The Boy series), knows well to at least make “Esther” as menacing as possible. The story goes even further by injecting a twist whose existence gets thwarted by a larger one (that isn’t even in this film). This will throw the main character through some sleuth works in finding out how easy it was for her to blend into the new society — something we keep questioning, too.
But, here comes the irony. First Kill only works because of the willingness to do whatever it takes to make Fuhrman relevant to the narrative. The only thing to do so is by tingling audiences’ suspension of disbelief, and, that takes a lot of effort — from extensive make-up to forced perspective and body doubles. It doesn’t always seem believable; but, this whole upbringing feels almost philosophical as much as it’s ironic. The idea of not letting Fuhrman “grows up” sums up the entire ambition.
In the absence of shocking factors as significant as the first film had, Orphan: First Kill manages to throw some punches with an independently bizarre mystery. After all, this prequel still makes yet a campier prequel that shows flashes of potential, but never proof of why it would be a necessary tale to add depth to Isabelle Fuhrman’s iconic character.