Monday, August 15, 2022

‘Orphan: First Kill’ Review – Esther’s Back in Prequel That Goes Full Camp

The final act of 2009’s Orphan revealed a shocking twist; the adopted 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) wasn’t a child but a murderous 33-year-old with hypopituitarism. Over a decade later, Esther returns to slay again. Instead of an older, wiser Esther, Orphan: First Kill rewinds the clock to follow the exploits of the childlike killer’s first adoptive family. The now adult Fuhrman reprising her role is the first overt clue that this prequel intends to fully embrace the over-the-top ‘90s thriller vibe its predecessor started, camp and all.

First Kill reacquaints us with Esther with a reminder of her homicidal tendencies. An extended opening sequence at an Estonian psychiatric facility demonstrates how deceptive and lethal Esther can be as she sets a plan to escape in motion. Esther then assumes the identity of a wealthy American family’s long-lost daughter. Impersonating the missing child proves a highly daunting task for Esther when she realizes she might be in over her head with her protective mother, Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles).

At first, the screenplay by David Coggeshall from a story by producers Alex Mace and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick presents an inverse of the 2009 film. After a thrilling opening sequence, Esther settles into playing the part of a doting daughter reconnecting with her family after years apart. Familiar patterns begin to emerge; Esther takes a fancy to her adoptive dad, Allen (Rossif Sutherland), while she’s standoffish with older brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). She maintains a careful guard, especially around Detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa), who’s long been tasked with finding the Albrights’ missing daughter. Just as Esther settles into a familiar routine, though, the script flips the story on its head with an unexpected obstacle that changes everything for the pint-sized murderess.

Matthew Finlan as “Gunnar” and Julia Stiles as “Tricia” in Orphan: First Kill from Paramount Players, eOne, and Dark Castle Entertainment.

Director William Brent Bell, taking over for Jaume Collet-Serra, has the unenviable task of creating a youthful illusion in Fuhrman’s Esther after a ten-year gap between films. Bell employs a variety of tactics to de-age the actress. Forced perspectives and adjusting the heights of set dressing or scene partners present the more successful strategies for conveying Esther’s petite size. Wide shots of Esther highlight noticeable child stand-ins, making for one of the more distracting approaches to de-aging. Then there’s the hazy look of the film itself, almost as though First Kill intends to blur out any possible signs of Fuhrman’s adulthood. The choices seem all the stranger in that First Kill is self-aware. Orphan saw a preteen Fuhrman playing an adult masquerading as a child. First Kill features an adult playing an adult trying to pass as a child.

First Kill is at its strongest when it firmly embraces that self-awareness. Esther driving a stolen car in a scene, having the time of her life, is delightful and leaves you wishing this prequel featured more moments like this. Julia Stiles also brings an unexpected ferocity and surprising foil to Esther’s plans. Stiles knows what the movie is going for and carries the energy to match. So much so that she threatens to steal the film from Fuhrman. It brings an imbalance that occasionally de-fangs and sidelines our favorite little killer.

Orphan First Kill review esther

Isabelle Fuhrman as “Esther” in Orphan: First Kill from Paramount Players, eOne, and Dark Castle Entertainment.

While the prequel playfully addresses questions you didn’t know you needed the answer to, like how Esther developed her black light painting skills, it’s also prone to deflated energy that lends an uneven quality. It doesn’t help that Rossif Sutherland feels sleepy and miscast in his role, though he doesn’t have much to work with as the bland nice guy oblivious to the madness ensuing around him.

The prequel wants to shift allegiances and dial up the madness, leaning hard into a ‘90s thriller vibe. It fares the strongest when Stiles and Fuhrman play off each other, but it’s prone to sags in energy. First Kill injects plenty of camp and unhinged moments that’ll entertain, but it’s inconsistent. That’s exacerbated by the occasionally ineffective means of de-aging Fuhrman. Those on board with the hammy thriller vibe will likely find themselves heavily amused by Esther’s story, finding sustenance on the wild swings to carry them through the plodding stretches.

Orphan: First Kill releases in Theaters, on Digital and streaming on Paramount+ August 19, 2022.

The post ‘Orphan: First Kill’ Review – Esther’s Back in Prequel That Goes Full Camp appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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