Orphan: First Kill (2022)

orphan: first kill review

⭐⭐⭐ (3 stars out of 5)

Orphan: First Kill (2022) Directed by William Brent Bell

This crazy prequel does not exactly travel to the demented origins of its unhinged protagonist but it does visit the past of her devious crimes that would lead her to the events and consequences seen in the 2009 film Orphan, where for the first time her aggressive madness was introduced to cinema.

Orphan: First Kill honors the infamies of its hyperviolent, though seemingly on the surface harmless, character that after this new installment should be placed, now if validly, as an iconographic character of contemporary horror cinema; perhaps Orphan does not yet belong to the denomination of “franchise”, however this film seeks the exaltation of its villain in such a way, to the extent of making evident the urgent call for proliferating as many stupid sequels as possible. Therefore, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see new productions in the future resurrecting this vicious character multiple times with the same implausibility as the most celebrated, and interminable, slasher sequels.

Orphan: First Kill awakens “Esther’s” seething past in what appears to be a parody of her mercurial insanity, as a satire that romanticizes the schlock and gimmickry inherent in its synthetic filmmaking formula. The most immediately appealing thing about Orphan: First Kill is its relentless decision to never get caught up in its implausible content, the filmmakers thoroughly enjoy the possibilities that the wrathful, deranged mind of a character like Esther can grant them within a narrative that uncompromisingly goes for a very well premeditated final destination, which they anticipate with a delirious mélange of frivolous ideas that have an exclusive preference for a delightfully tacky taste.

The luridly bloody opening concentrates all its boisterous and hyperbolic verve on mechanizing its irascible and cunning character with the abrasive violence of a slasher, with intensive sordid entertainment the slasher film mimicry of that exaggerated first act establishes its berserk “heroine” as a soulless killing machine that could face the immortality of the most famous protagonists of slasher cinema.

Drastically, that baroque atmosphere of violence and acting plasticity veers into Orphan’s (2009) narrative routine, yet the clichéd course it follows is coordinated by the dramatic rules of that first film and carries so many surprises and seditious mockery against its own origins that it makes its deceptive passivity and normative cliché-following productive for a noisily bad, but scandalously brilliant at the same time, mid-plot twist. I’ve always been a staunch advocate of plot twists in the midst of the film rather than in the end, the fruitfulness that such audacity renders is positively gargantuan for the unraveling of the ensuing acts, especially when you manage to maneuver this twisty device into the narrative in the midsection of the story proficiently, the result is highly chaotic, in a good sense of the word. Even more so considering that this production insistently attempts to mirror Esther’s manic cerebral behavior with its feverish narrative disorder to filmically capture her obsessions and maddening actions, i.e. chaos plus chaos, it gives the perfect and most gory romantic space for Esther to feel at home.

A 31-year-old patient, Leena Klammer, who suffers from a rare disorder called Hypopituitarism that gives her the appearance of a little girl, is an inpatient in an Estonian psychiatric hospital. Her sudden mood swings and belligerent behavior inside the facility have made her the most dangerous and feared patient in the place. But no matter how much security there is in the psychiatric hospital, Leena’s psychotic astuteness leads her to orchestrate her great escape, managing to flee the madhouse. Leena has a well-planned ploy to pose as an American girl who disappeared several years ago, and present herself as Esther to the authorities so that she can be taken to her new home. The story works to some degree like the narrative of Orphan(2009). It is virtually the same, however the filmmakers’ ideas here flow with burlesque intentions, altering certain idioms at their perverse whim.

With icy stare and petrifying black eyes, Isabelle Fuhrman returns fiercer than ever in the lead role that made her famous in the horror genre. With the same ambition as the entire team surrounding this production, Fuhrman brings an exploitative deadly allure to once again play the compulsive Esther, and while what she manages to do with the character is nothing amazing in parallel to the campy essence of the cast’s other performances, she does demonstrate an impressive evolution in her new vision of the character, more trenchant and unrestrained as an actress. The acting mannerisms, notably from a choleric Julia Stiles as Esther’s “mother”, do not make the film devoid of exasperating flaws, quite the contrary, they drench it with implausibility, which is clearly sought by William Brent Bell’s stylized direction and emphasized by the ungainly execution, but ultimately, the objectives, however erratic, continually play with the clumsiness of a deliberately “bad” filmmaking. And that trashy quality makes it one of the most shockingly enjoyable so-bad-it’s-good films I’ve seen this year.

Matteo Bedon
About Author

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.