Film Review: Orphan: First Kill Features Isabelle Fuhrman Cunningly Reviving the Horror Prequel Subgenre

Film Review: Orphan: First Kill Features Isabelle Fuhrman Cunningly Reviving the Horror Prequel Subgenre

People who suffer the same devastating circumstance can often find their own unique ways to contend with their grief. While feeling disengaged from society after losing their family connection can become overwhelming, for example, some people resort to manipulating those who are still in their lives in order to regain a sense of control. That’s certainly the case for the titular antagonist and some of her new relatives in the new horror thriller, Orphan: First Kill.

The film is the highly anticipated prequel to the classic 2009 horror feature, Orphan. The origin story features Isabelle Fuhrman reprising her titular role of the orphaned Esther from the first movie, as well as Rossif Sutherland and Julia Stiles. The new drama was written by David Coggeshall and directed by horror genre veteran, William Brent Bell (The Boy franchise).

Orphan: First Kill opens with Esther receiving treatment at a psychiatric facility in Estonia, the Saarne Institute, where she’s receiving care from a team of doctors. It’s revealed that instead of being the nine-year-old child she appears to be, Esther’s actually a woman in her early 30s named Leena. She has a rare hormonal disorder, hypopituitarism, that stunted her physical development and ultimately led to her developing her violent, manipulative tendencies.

In order to reclaim her freedom, Leena orchestrates a daring escape by assuming the identity of Esther, the missing daughter of the wealthy Albright family, which includes patriarch Allen (Sutherland), matriarch Tricia (Stiles) and their teenage son, Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). Tricia travels to Estonia to bring who she believes is her daughter back home with her to America.

While Leena begins to bond with her new family while impersonating Esther, particularly Allen, an unexpected secret amongst the Albrights is revealed. As a result, Esther is forced to fight back against her new mother, who will do anything to protect her family.

One of the main reasons why Orphan has become a cult classic since its release in 2009 was Fuhrman’s natural ability as a then 11-year-old child actress to emphasize Esther’s seemingly innocent nature. Throughout the first film, the character initially appears to just be struggling with the traumatic accidents that occurred in her past, and her increasingly violent behavior and murderous acts offer a surface-level glimpse into her true state of mind.

Orpahn‘s revelation that the eponymous character is suffering from hypopituitarism allowed the now 25-year-old actress to more maturely interweave that naivete with Esther’s intentionally manipulative personality as an adult in the prequel. Fuhrman was also able to give a more fully nuanced performance that shows her villainous character feels like she’ll never be normal, due to her illness, which led to her depravity and deteriorating psychosis becoming so amplified.

Throughout Orphan: First Kill, the actress shows that her character doesn’t feel any qualms over her destructive behavior. Esther uses her hyper-intelligence and manipulative personality to pit people against one another, particularly the members of the Albright family.

Coggeshall’s script for the new thriller also offers a surprising glimpse into Esther’s complex personality and emotions by developing a sense of caring towards Allen once she moves in with the Albright family. That affection predictably becomes misguided, as she ponders how their connection would progress if Tricia and Gunnar were no longer in their lives, and as a result, does whatever she can to drive the family apart.

However, Fuhrman embraces the screenwriter’s subtle development of her character’s underlying sense of tenderness towards Allen; Esther appreciates that Allen’s the only person who truly and irrefutably embraces her upon her arrival in America.

Fuhrman’s powerful reprisal of her signature role in Orphan: First Kill is further intensified by her increasing ease of bantering with Stiles on screen. The latter actress rivals the movie’s star in her portrayal of the layered depth and personality behind the privileged matriarch.

Stiles initially portrays Tricia as having buried all of her emotions and trying to move on after her daughter’s disappearance. Despite her suppressed grief over losing her daughter, Tricia begins to encourage her husband and son to fully accept that Esther is back in their lives upon her return home.

But Stiles eventually proves how clever and cunning her character also is when her reunion with her supposed missing child becomes increasingly tense, especially after her secret is revealed.

Besides Fuhrman and Stiles’ standout performances, one of the new movie’s most distinctive features is the way the makeup department made the lead actress appear as though she hasn’t physically aged since the original feature’s release in 2009. Doug Morrow, who served as the makeup department head and special makeup effects artist for Orphan: First Kill, used the fact that her face still has a resemblance to when she was 11-years-old to his advantage.

Collaborating closely with Fuhrman and the drama’s other departments, including camera, special effects and wardrobe, to emphasize her youthful appearance, Morrow made her skin look as though she hasn’t gone through adolescence. Using heavier airbrush makeup and such techniques as highlighting, shadow and contouring in very subtle ways, he made her face look rounder and less sharpened, which allowed her to look the same way she did in the original film.

Orphan: First Kill is a surprisingly effective, engaging origin story that appeals to both fans of its predecessor and new viewers to the series. The franchise’s latest installment powerfully thrives on Fuhrman’s ability to interweave Esther’s seemingly innocent personality from the first entry with her increasingly manipulative behavior that she doesn’t feel a need to hide as much when she first arrives in the U.S.

Alongside Fuhrman, Stiles gives an equally captivating performance in her portrayal as the Albright family’s matriarch, who proves to be just as cunning as Esther while trying to navigate her supposed daughter’s return home. Combined with its stellar visuals, notably its make-up, camera angles and special effects, Orphan: First Kill is an enthralling psychological horror thriller that examines the unique ways people contend with their grief.

Orphan: First Kill is now playing in theaters, on Digital and streaming on Paramount+, courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

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