Mini Reviews: Orphan (2009) & Orphan: First Kill (2022)

Having not seen Orphan since around the time of its release, I thought now would be the perfect time to give it a rewatch and review. Here, I’ll be giving both that original film and the new prequel, Orphan: First Kill, their own review in a somewhat shorter format. With that, let’s dive into this iconic horror franchise! (Does two films count as a franchise? Well, it does now).

Orphan (2009)

Even if you’ve not seen this modern-classic psychological thriller, it’s hard to have completely avoided finding out Orphan‘s grand twist, especially if you’re a fan of the horror genre. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the twist in this review. It’s such a celebrated and beloved film for its genuine thrills, hints of dark comedy and brilliantly orchestrated twist, that I’m surprised it’s taken this long to receive a sequel/prequel. That being said, let’s get into it.

Right from the get-go, the creepy tone and eerie atmosphere lock you in to the story, established by a chilling score and overwhelming sense of uneasiness. The structure of the narrative is hardly groundbreaking, but it’s the immense tension looming over every single scene that makes it such an enjoyable film. At two hours long, it’s easy to imagine the story dragging, but it moves along at such a rapid pace that there’s no time left to be bored. It’s very refreshing to see a longer horror movie that’s able to pack its runtime with genuinely engaging content the whole way through. On top of that, the sheer weight of the tension helps with not noticing the length – time just flies by because of how well it grips you and keeps you engaged. On top of the general threat of death around every corner, the mystery of “what’s the deal with Esther?” is another strong element – culminating in a damn effective and memorable twist. I can confirm that even if you know where things are heading, none of the tension is ruined – it’s still brilliantly effective on a rewatch.

The horror itself seems quite progressive for a film that dropped in 2009, right in the midst of a jumpscare-heavy clusterfuck fuelled by the Paranormal Activity franchise. Are there some jumpscares? Sure. But it plays with them in a way that subverts the cliché. I admire director Jaume Collet-Serra’s attempt to keep things feeling fresh – not rehashing overused jumpscare techniques and falling into the trap of cheap scares. As I mentioned, the film is riddled with tense moments and genuine scares throughout, all adding up to make for a deeply entertaining ride. As thrilling as it is, there’s the slightest hint of dark comedy weaved in. It’s not a lot, limited to a couple of subtle moments, but it adds some extra flair to what is already a great ride.

Those who’ve seen the film would be forgiven for forgetting that Vera Farmiga is in it, like I did. She’s such a great talent when it comes to delivering a convincing horror performance, and it’s clear this was the precursor to her being cast as Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring universe. However as great as she is, there’s only one standout performer who is the reason for the film’s success. The young Isabelle Fuhrman is exceptionally good across every single scene. The fact that someone of her age is able to play a character this complex and evil so perfectly is absolutely astounding. Every line of dialogue is delivered flawlessly, whether it’s to show the more charming side of the character or the more manipulative side. She effectively brings to life what I’d consider is one of the best horror characters.

In the end, Orphan holds up exceptionally well as a horror film you can still be absolutely thrilled by on a rewatch. If you’ve not yet seen it, you’re in for an absolute treat. If you have, the scares still work and the tension is just as gripping as the first time you watched it. It all moves along at a rapid pace, making the fact that it’s two hours long almost unnoticeable. Complete with a damn incredible performance by Isabelle Fuhrman, there’s no excuse for not checking out Orphan.


Orphan: First Kill (2022)

Spoilers for Orphan (2009) to follow

Going right back to the beginning, Orphan: First Kill aims to set up (one of) the first of Esther’s murderous adventures following her escape from an Estonian psychiatric facility. With Isabelle Fuhrman returning to the role, it has the potential to be something special.

Anyone going into this prequel should know by now that Esther is actually an adult passing herself off as a child, meaning unfortunately, the film can’t hinge on that game-changing twist this time around. As a result, this is a completely different beast that is honestly incomparable to the original, to an extent. When it comes to the narrative, the first two acts are quite strong, giving us a good amount of backstory, greater insight into the character of Esther, and quality sequences of Esther just doing her thing. Much like the original film, it moves along at a relatively rapid pace – introducing us to our new family of characters and quickly putting Esther into the setting we all want to see – an orphan. Since the mystery element is understandably missing, these opening acts are good, but nothing too unique. Don’t get me wrong, I was very much enjoying it as a psychological thriller, but I found myself wishing it had somehow gone bigger. It’s a straightforward series of familiar events tied together with great tension, but you can feel that it doesn’t quite have the same impact as the original film.

That is until the final act kicks into gear. As much as I really want to, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of this final act in the slightest. All I’ll say is that it turns a “pretty decent” film into a “great” one. Like, I thought it was heading down a very specific and clearly-defined road, but then the writers pulled the rug out from under me and did something really damn cool. The story definitely got a huge boost in this last third, though at the same time it loses some of the horror vibes from the earlier acts – but not to the film’s detriment. It’s still very much engaging and really intense, but it’s a different kind of tension than that of the earlier acts. This is also where that slight hint of dark comedy associated with the Esther character shines through a little stronger. Basically what I’m saying is, watch out for that third act because it’s awesome. With the return of Esther comes the return of brutal, bloody violence that doesn’t hold back. Anyone looking for some horror chills will certainly find that in here.

Much like I did in my review of Orphan, I need to praise Isabelle Fuhrman as she delivers an amazing performance that may even surpass what she did 13 years ago. It’s no secret that she’s 25 years old playing woman who is about 33 who is impersonating a young girl who’s around 8 years old, and she does an incredible job convincing us of that. The way she channels both Esther and Leena, and subsequently swaps between them, enhances the film in every way. She’s charming, charismatic and terrifyingly evil all at the same time – an all-round top performance. The fact that they were able to make a 25 year-old look like an 8 year-old through makeup, Isabelle’s performance and camera trickery is astounding. Sure, she’s visibly older than she was in the original film, but it still really works if you don’t get too hung up on it. One thing is for certain – you could not make this prequel work without Isabelle.

In the end, I wouldn’t put Orphan: First Kill above its predecessor, but that’s by no means a criticism. The original is its own beast, and this has its own unique identity. It’s impressively thrilling and entertaining, highlighting some great moments of brutal, bloody horror that don’t go over the top. It does fall into some straightforward horror clichés with a story that initially goes along as you’d expect, but it’s beautifully taken up a few notches going into the final act. I hope we get to see more of this character in the future, but if you’re a fan of Orphan, you’re bound to love this triumphant return!


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