Orphan: First Kill review | Esther is back in the sequel to orphan

A long-awaited prequel to 2009’s surprise cult hit Orphan is mostly hit-and-miss, but its bonkers third act saves the day.

Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan First Kill


Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan from 2009 is a film almost everyone seems to have seen. As soon as you bring it up, people excitedly go “Oh, the one where the little girl is actually a grown woman?!” Yeah, that one. People love it. 

Despite the first one being released 13 years ago, we are now being treated to – or subjected to, depending on your feelings towards the first film – to a sequel, or a prequel actually. Esther, real name Leena Klammer, is confined to a bleak psychiatric hospital in Estonia. The new art therapist is warned that Leena is dangerous, cunning and one to watch out for. 

Things obviously go sideways and Leena escapes, later pretending to be the lost American child Esther. She plays her part well and is shipped to the States to be reunited with her family. Mother Tricia can’t quite believe her eyes as Esther is returned to her but her husband is over the moon, while their son seems almost hostile towards the little girl. 

Orphan First Kill Isabelle Fuhrman

The biggest flaw in Orphan: First Kill is that we now know Esther is a grown woman. It strips away the tension and mystery that largely kept the first film going. It’s nowhere near as fun now that we know why she’s acting so suspicious and psychopathic. 

But wisely, First Kill also knows this and throws in a curveball midway through the film. As soon as you think First Kill is only trying to copy and paste the thrills from the first film, it pulls the rug from under you. Without spoiling anything, it’s a fun little twist and surprising enough to be admirable. Yet, First Kill is still a bit on the boring side narratively and the limitations of its budget are evident in the bad CGI.

Visually, the film is hazy, almost like it has a poor Snapchat filter over it. Perhaps meant to emulate the cloudiness of Esther’s past, but it simply makes the film look dull. With a story as violent as Esther’s and the setting of wintery, urban calmness, there was potential here for a much more visually dynamic film. 

Isabelle Fuhrman, who was 11 at the time of the first film and is now 24, seems to have a tighter grip on her character. Esther is more refined, but has also lost the innocence that made the revelation of her age in the first one so jarring and shocking. There’s some particularly bad CGI de-aging done to Fuhrman which does bring a sense of unease and dread to the character, but not in a compelling way. 

Matthew Finlan & Julia Stiles Orphan First Kill

It’s blatantly obvious that Fuhrman has physically outgrown the role; it feels like the elephant in the room. Camera tricks as well as edged boots are used to make other actors seem taller, but Fuhrman simply doesn’t move convincingly. Maybe that’s partly the point, but it makes First Kill feel like it’s lacking that special something. 

Julia Stiles, whom I will always remember fondly from Save The Last Dance, is on great form. She’s clearly in on the joke and finely threads the line between a desperate mother trying to reconnect with her daughter and someone who doesn’t recognise the child in front of her. Everyone else in the film comes and goes without much fanfare as the tension boils down to Esther and her new mother. The dynamic between Fuhrman and Stiles is playful, but never really reaches the campy heights it could have. 

What somewhat saves the film, is the absolutely bonkers, borderline ridiculous finale. It’s daft, silly and filled with even worse CGI than before, but it’s also where most of the fun is had. Director William Brent Bell finally lets loose and embraces the silliness of the whole film, but it’s too little, too late. If only it would have done it an hour earlier and I would have liked this a whole lot more. 

Signature Entertainment presents Orphan: First Kill exclusively in Cinemas from 19th August

Leave a Reply

More like this