The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - ORPHAN: FIRST KILL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - ORPHAN: FIRST KILL

orphan first kill review
Prequel to the 2009 thriller Orphan.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: William Brent Bell

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Matthew Finlan, Hiro Kanagawa

orphan first kill poster

The 2009 thriller Orphan saw a then 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman deliver a breakout performance as Esther, a 30-year-old woman posing as a 10-year-old girl in order to mess with the family that unwittingly adopted her. Orphan: First Kill is set two years before the first movie, which immediately raises the question of who plays Esther this time, and how? Surely the obvious choice would be to opt for another child actress? But no, the filmmakers have brought back a now 25-year-old Fuhrman to return to the role with the "aid" of some laughably unconvincing CG and body doubles.

This immediately sets a challenge for the audience. You're either going to buy into the idea that a woman who clearly looks 30 (no offence intended, but Fuhrman could easily pass for 35) is somehow able to gaslight every other character in the movie into believing she's a child. Or you're going to roll your eyes through the whole movie.

orphan first kill review

If you can accept Orphan: First Kill on its admittedly challenging terms, you're in for some campy fun. Directed by William Brent Bell and written by David Coggeshall, Orphan: First Kill takes its narrative cues from two movies – the 1970 thriller Road to Salina and the 2012 documentary The Impostor. Both those films saw an impostor posing as a long lost family member, only to find themselves questioning why their fake family is so easily duped by their scam.


Here, Esther decides to pose as a missing American girl after she breaks out of the Estonian psychiatric institute she's been housed in since killing another family. It's implausible that she would be able to fool both the Estonian and American authorities, considering she matches the exact description of a prisoner who killed several guards during a violent breakout, but like I said, you have to accept this film on its own terms.

orphan first kill review

Brought to the US, Esther is introduced to the Albrights, the family that believes she's their little girl who disappeared four years earlier. Doting father Allen (Rossif Sutherland) immediately accepts Esther but mom Tricia (Julia Stiles) and teenage son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) appear skeptical, as does local police inspector Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa), who begins snooping around. Feeling the net closing in, Esther considers fleeing, but her attraction to Allen forces her to stick around and set in motion a campaign of getting rid of anyone who gets in her way.


Up until its late twist, the first movie played like a typical variant on the old Bad Seed killer kid format. With Fuhrman's uncanny valley Jimmy Krankie features transplanted onto the bodies of child-sized stunt doubles, this prequel has more in common with a Child's Play movie in how its miniature menace moves around. Fuhrman even seems to be taking some acting cues from Chucky, often switching back and forth between adult sociopath and innocent child in the blink of an eye fashion of cinema's most iconic killer doll.

orphan first kill review

There's also an element of classic "Psycho Biddy" movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in the dynamic between Esther and the increasingly suspicious Tricia, enhanced by a mid-movie reveal. Stiles and Fuhrman are having a blast with these over-the-top roles, going full Crawford and Davis in their taunting of one another. While some of the laughs are unintentional, the movie is fully aware of how outrageous its setup really is and doesn't overlook opportunities to mock itself. Tricia becomes something of an audience surrogate, often expressing her bemusement at the ridiculous scenario she finds herself in. It’s a long time since Stiles has had this much fun on screen.

Orphan: First Kill has just the right level of self-awareness to get us on board with its silliness, but it never overdoes the winking at the audience. Despite its campy setup, it's still trying to pull off a traditional thriller narrative, which only enhances its campiness. It's the fact that this is all played with such a straight face - by all but the few actors and indeed characters who know what sort of movie they're really in – that makes it so much fun, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. You can either laugh at Orphan: First Kill or laugh with it. Either way, you'll have some undeniable fun.

Orphan: First Kill
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from August 19th.



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