Friday, August 19, 2022

Orphan: First Kill

This entire film is a spoiler alert for its possible franchise, because if you haven’t already seen Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan (released in 2009), it reveals the original film’s big shocking twist in the first ten minutes. There is a very good reason nasty little Leena has been confined to an Estonian asylum for the criminally insane. Viewers know her better as Esther, the name she adopts after her violent escape in William Brent Bell’s Orphan: First Kill, which releases today in theaters and on-demand.

Dr. Novotny kept warning his staff to always be on their guard when around the little monster, but they just didn’t listen. A few bloody murders later, Leena finds a photo online of Esther Albright, a missing American girl she can pass herself off as, due to the passage of time and a bogus Russian kidnapping yarn. Of course, Albright’s sensitive artist father Allen is so overcome with joy, he unquestioningly accepts everything she says. However, Tricia Albright knows there is something wrong with her story and their child psychologist also notices some inconsistencies.

Make no mistake, Mother Albright is one tough customer. People are always so dumb in horror movies, but not her, no siree. Esther is a master manipulator, but she will have a harder time pulling-off her
Bad Seed-esque head-games with Ms. Albright than she did with Vera Farmiga in the first film. In fact, their cat-and-mouse business is what makes First Kill so much fun.

It is pretty amazing Isabelle Fuhrman can still play Esther, over ten years after the first film released. Admittedly, she had some SFX help, but there is also something about the character’s sinister nature that encourages the suspension of disbelief in this respect. Yet, Julia Stiles’s performance as Albright is what really makes the film work so well. She is sharp and witheringly funny. As a result, she and Esther are pretty evenly matched, which actually builds the kind of tension and suspense that is hard to get from prequels (because let’s face it, logic already tells us exactly what will happen).

To further stir the pot, Matthew Finlan adds a lot of shifty energy as the Albrights’ entitled teenaged son Gunnar, while Rossif Sutherland is perfectly cast as sad, dopey Allen Albright. Plus, Hiro Kanagawa plays Inspector Donnan with intelligence and dignity (unlike the usual idiot cops in horror movies).

In a way, this is a prequel that sort of ruins viewers for the original film and any potential instalments to come between. Maybe they could just rewind again. The premise is actually inspired by the real-life tabloid case of Barbora Skrlova, but googling her might be spoilery. Regardless, screenwriter David Coggeshall cranks up Esther’s story in ways that are over-the-top, but perfectly fitting. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys hearth-and-home-style horror,
Orphan: First Kill opens today (8/19) in New York, at the AMC Empire.