MOVIE REVIEW – Back is the “innocent-faced” protagonist of the horror film Orphan, who only appears to be a little girl but is, in fact, a dwarf, over-30 psychopathic female serial killer. When the 2009 horror film Orphan came out, it didn’t shake the foundations of the genre (it has an inferior Metacritic average, for example), but it did stand out from the B-grade genre films that were still being made at the time, thanks to the punchline and, above all, the creepy performance of the female lead. Now, 13 years later, the prequel to Orphan has been made, in which the punchline has been forgotten, but at least we can get an insight into how Esther’s bloody rampage began. Was it worth it?
Although we live in an age when virtually any successful film can get a remake, sequel or reboot (usually of dubious quality), probably not many people would have thought that the 2009 film The Orphan would have received such an honour. In fact, Orphan was neither a critical nor a major audience success – for example, the lead actress Vera Farmiga is better known for her work in the series and franchise The Demon Wars than for Orphan. In what, in hindsight, seems to be a somewhat underrated thriller (the Metacritic average of 42 is definitely too low, we’d give it around 7/10), it’s about a couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who adopt a Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), who turns out to be a sociopathic adult, meaning that despite her looks, she’s not really a child. Jaume Collet-Serra has cleverly built up the tension, and the cast is well-acted, but even the fans were not begging for a sequel.
Unfortunately, much of the recently released prequel, Orphan: First Kill, makes it clear why this is the case. Although we’ve seen crows on a spike, or rather, it didn’t seem at first glance like a franchise of this magnitude, for example, it’s unlikely that Esther will become a horror icon like Chucky, Jason or Freddy. True, there is this film after all, so who knows?
Escape from the asylum
First, Kill is essentially the story of what started out as a simple but later became a much more complicated story. As we already know, Esther is a ruthless serial killer, and it should be no surprise that the early scenes of First Victim focus on her as a traditional slasher villain, willing to do anything for her freedom. Fans of the first film may remember that Esther escaped from an Estonian asylum before being placed with a new family. After she escapes, she hatches a cunning plan to find safety with a wealthy family in the United States and decides to pose as the Albrights’ missing child. Mother Tricia (Julia Stiles), father Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) are shocked to see their little girl return to the Albright family estate, even if some things about her story don’t add up. When it is revealed that the Albrights have a secret that rivals Esther’s, a showdown is inevitable, although the fact that this is a prequel film takes some of the tension off, as our anti-heroine has to survive this film to make the first film possible.
Shame about the lousy director
One of the big problems with the film is that it was directed by the extremely unassuming William Brent Bell, who also ran The Devil Lives in You, The Boy and Separation. None of them is a big hit – and that’s putting it mildly… Bell isn’t very interested in creating visually stunning compositions here at all, almost always content to just throw action into the frame, with minimal concern for building tension or creating the right mood. Orphan: First Kill therefore feels flat (and often cheap), when it really needs a visually capable director with a steady hand to direct the otherwise talented Fuhrman and Stills.
Even screenwriter David Coggeshall knows that fans of the original film can’t be shocked by the twist of that film again, so he tried to top it with a crazy twist in the middle of the film, which I won’t spoil here, but it got just wild enough that I think it’s worth watching for that reason. Too bad the director’s lack of talent spoiled an otherwise interesting script.
Yet both Fuhrman and Stiles understood their own task. Fuhrman, who was so good in last year’s Newcomer, knows how to keep the tension up with his creepy acting, and he holds much of the film together by sheer will. Then there’s Stiles, who has been given something more interesting to play instead of her usual “grieving mother” cliché, and the actress, familiar from the Jason Bourne films, brings it very well this time around. So there are plenty of wasted opportunities here…
It’s a shame that the lousy direction made The Orphan: First Victim such a dud because the script was not uninteresting, and the two main characters (Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles) did their best to make a good horror film. As we instead feel a sense of lack, we wish Fuhrman would return for another “Orphan” film. Of course, that doesn’t seem too likely now…
Orphan: First Kill
Direction - 3.8
Actors - 7.2
Story - 6.2
Visuals/Tension/Music/Sounds - 5.2
Ambience - 5.4
It's a shame that the lousy direction made The Orphan: First Victim such a dud because the script was not uninteresting, and the two main characters (Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles) did their best to make a good horror film. As we instead feel a sense of lack, we wish Fuhrman would return for another "Orphan" film. Of course, that doesn't seem too likely now...
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