Orphan: First Kill doesn’t fully impress but it’s certainly a more satisfying picture for its daringness.
Published on September 1, 2022
Rating 3 /5
As a prequel to 2009’s Orphan, it’s rather surprising just how engaging First Kill becomes. It doesn’t resort itself to acting as a lukewarm origin story that we don’t care about nor does it expect the audience to be as up-to-date on its connections to a ho-hum horror from over a decade ago. The film works decently enough on its own as one bound by twists that may not always be shocking but certainly compelling.
Taking place in 2007, we’re introduced to Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman), a pig-tailed girl residing in a mental institution in Estonia. Even though Leena is 31, she is stricken with a hormone disorder called hypopituitarism. This makes her look younger than she appears and provides the perfect cover for others to look at her assuming. She’s also incredibly violent and will manipulate others into doing her bidding.
After a vicious escape from the institution, Leena sets her plans in motion to pose as a missing kid in Darien, Connecticut. She convinces the couple Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and Tricia Albright (Julia Stiles), as well as their teenage son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan), that she is their missing daughter. While Allen and Gunnar are somewhat convinced, Tricia is highly suspicious. So much doesn’t line up with this Leena character being her lost Esther. Trips to the psychiatrist's office also revealed that there’s some sneakiness to her methods.
The manipulations of Leena have a chilling edge, albeit a rather slow build. Her tall tales are mildly calculative, peppered with only a few errors to let Tricia know something is amiss. It’s only once we learn what Tricia has really done with her daughter that the greater twist shakes up the story. Suddenly, the story isn’t just about Leena manipulating a family but about Leena and Tricia being at odds with each other to keep up the secrecy. There’s a battle of wits and deception to keep up the allusion of a reunited family, leading down a dark path of murder and torture, both physical and mental.
There are plenty of mildly surprising moments throughout that make First Kill such a hoot. Leena’s escape from the institution is rather wicked, complete with a brutal kill while she establishes her new identity. I also loved how engaged Leena becomes when embracing her evil side, where one scene finds her stealing a car and smoking a cigarette as she cranks the radio. There’s just something about a woman posing as a little girl and then acting like a devious adult that is quite the sight. The climax also feels grand with a daring chase through a burning home, utilizing architecture as well as art of Allen.
Orphan: First Kill doesn’t fully impress but it’s certainly a more satisfying picture for its daringness. The dark nature and mystery of such a story make for something far better than just an explanation of how this deceptive killer came to be. The result is a film that’s more about how much cool stuff you can do with this topic rather than just form a foundation for a film that most people have forgotten. In the same way that the sequel to Oujia was far better, First Kill is so compelling it trumps the original, even if only by a few notches.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.