Orphan: First Kill (2022)

Director: William Brent Bell

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland, Hiro Kanagawa, Matthew Finlan, Samantha Walkes, David Lawrence Brown

Released in 2009, Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan was a delightfully bonkers take on the "child from hell" story aided by Isabelle Fuhrman's exceptional performance as the 9-year-old girl that's not what she seems. The finality of that films ending meant a follow-up was not on the cards, although there's ample room for a prequel.

Working off a screenplay by David Coggeshall, William Brent Bell takes over directorial duties to whisk away viewers to Estonia, 2007. At the Saarne Institute, an art-therapy instructor is shown around the psychiatric facility before having an unsettling encounter with Leena Klammer (Fuhrman). This meeting allows audiences to be brought up to speed, recounting revelations which make-up the final act of the preceding film, before Leena makes her escape. To evade the authorities, she assumes the identity of Esther Albright, the missing daughter of a wealthy American family.

The most notable announcement for this film was Fuhrman's return, playing an earlier version of the character thirteen-years after she played it at age ten. Through a combination of make-up, forced perspective shots, and child actors serving as body doubles, the film works hard to try and sell the casting choice. The attempts to maintain the illusion are fun to watch, although it doesn't work as hoped, particularly when the multiple close-ups of Fuhrman's face cannot hide the passage of time.

Despite taking the lead role, the edges haven't softened for this villainous figure. This time, Leena poses as a missing child and must try not stumbling over her lies, gathering whatever information she can find to put on a performance. Fuhrman comfortably settles back into the role, capturing the characters cunning and manipulative streak while preying on others sympathies, and falling for the family patriarch.

As she crosses paths with the Albright family, Julia Stiles gives a superb performance as Tricia, the mother who will stop at nothing to protect her family. Rossif Sutherland puts a tender performance into Allen, the painter father that's overjoyed at his daughter's return, while Matthew Finlan embodies entitlement as eldest son Gunnar.

The material has no interest in subtlety, particularly when Leena's beloved hobby of blacklight painting is described as hidden layers where "nothing is ever just one thing". The film's more interested in having fun, and establishes this by wrongfooting audiences as the story takes an unexpected and more interesting direction. As the predator hiding in plain sight finds herself in a worse situation, an entertaining game of wits occurs which propels the remaining story, although one wishes this tone was established sooner. While it doesn't reach the heights of its predecessor, this prequel is a fun companion piece.

Orphan: First Kill is available exclusively in cinemas from 19th August