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'Following more than a decade of waiting, we finally have a new Orphan film to salivate over: Orphan: First Kill. The prequel, released on August 19, 2022, follows the story of lead protagonist, Leena Klammer (played by Isabelle Fuhrman), as she attempts to break free from a mental health facility in Estonia. The onscreen action entreats audiences to her backstory, helping to explain her actions in the original film.
Just to recap, the first Orphan, released in 2009, follows the story of an American couple, devastated by the loss of their unborn baby, who go to an orphanage to find another child. They adopt Leena Klammer (who they later call Esther) and take her home. However, after a series of dangerous events, the couple starts to suspect that there is something not quite right with her. Evil seems to be lurking within.
Orphan: First Kill fleshes out the backstory a little more for the first time. It explains where Klammer came from, how she made her way to the US, and why she behaves in the way she does. The film begins by depicting her escape from the Saarne Institute, a psychiatric ward deep in former Soviet Estonia. It then follows her all-or-nothing pursuit of freedom as she tries to break free of the chains that society imposed on her.
The first few sequences make you believe that you are watching a young girl righteously escaping victimization by the people around her. But when, on arrival in America, she poses as the missing daughter of a wealthy family, you begin to suspect that her intentions aren’t entirely pure. She seems quite happy leaving behind her old identity and taking on her new name, Esther, within the Albright family.
Father Allen (Roffis Sutherland), mother Tricia (Julia Stiles), and brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) all seem shocked to see Esther return. But as the scenes go by, that same eerie sense that something isn’t quite right with their daughter comes over them. Things about her story don’t add up.
That’s not all, though. It turns out that the Albrights have their own secrets and, arguably, they’re even bigger than Esther’s. The fundamental dishonesty helps to build tension and makes the film more engaging.
The fact that the film’s producers kept the same actress to play Esther is an impressive feat of modern cinematography and is appreciated by audiences. When the first Orphan came out, lead actress Isabelle Fuhrman was just 12 years old (and 11 during filming). Now 25, she plays a young child half her age with a clever combination of de-aging techniques involving certain camera angles, video editing techniques, and computer graphics.
While you can criticize the general blandness of the on-screen visuals, the in-fighting and backstabbing more than makes up for it. Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the sudden plot twist that occurs halfway through the film.
Here, the audience discovers that the mother, Tricia, and brother, Gunnar, are responsible for Klammer’s disappearance. According to Tricia, Gunnar had been abusive towards Esther when she was young but when she found out, it was too late to do anything about it. Instead of forcing Gunnar to take responsibility for his actions, Tricia had Esther kidnapped and sent away to a place where no one would find her.
Unfortunately for her mother and brother, things don’t go as planned, and Esther returns. The problems between the family members escalate. Rather than try to make her go missing a second time, Tricia comes up with a new plan to eliminate her problem daughter once and for all: kill her with poison. Unfortunately, Esther finds out and foils the plan at the last moment.
Eventually, the Albrights try to stage Esther’s death but it goes horribly wrong. The house burns down, and they die while Klammer survives.
Because of the plot twist and the unexpected ending, Ophan: First Kill is the perfect romp for anyone who loves revenge fantasies. Fuhrman does an excellent job of playing coiled tension and helps to make the film what it is. Stiles’s depiction of the grieving mother is also astute. She captures the fundamental fragmentation of her character as she grapples with murdering her own daughter.
Ultimately, Orphan: First Kill is a prequel that lives up to the series’s reputation. And even though the audience knows that Klammer survives (because of the original film), it still does a good job of creating tension and demanding your full attention.