Orphan: First Kill

Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan First Kill
Paramount Pictures
Orphan: First Kill (2022) is the prequel to 2009's Orphan, but not the place to start for viewers unfamiliar with this duology of films. Directed by William Brent Bell and starring Isabelle Fuhrman, it recaptures the same character magic that makes these stories work. The best introduction to it would be to watch the original Orphan — the stronger film of the two. This film is as enjoyable an experience, but the differences in tone between the two are a lot like the differences between the original Child's Play, and its sequel. The audience has different information for each experience, and that changes how the story is portrayed. Here, it turns out that merely replicating the beats of Orphan doesn't necessarily produce different results, knowing its twist.

The Look: As with its predecessor, the film largely avoids looking visually generic or feeling cheaply made thanks to its cinematography, but it's recommended to watch in a theater setting or a dark room as the film's color palette is quite flat and bleary. It helps the film's aesthetic and your immersion into the story, but as a consequence, the darker scenes can be tough to make out. It's worth noting as the cinematography is its strongest aspect. The film can sell its locations and their hostile climates with the set of looks on display, and it successfully matches the tone of the prior film in a way you don't assume of most horror sequels, especially not ones that are produced over a decade later. As with this script, you're bound to enjoy this new experience if you count the original Orphan among your favorite horror films.

The Story: Though First Kill doesn't justify its existence until it suddenly does — no need to go further than that. Though it still leaves its first third to commit to this slow-burn, until the story can catch up to what's actually interesting about this sequel. The modern desire to make prequels — despite being the reason this film exists, also means it spends a lot of time re-establishing the same rhythms. If Esther's cold resourcefulness is the reason why you enjoyed the original, then you've got nothing to worry about. I spent much of the first hour of this wondering if this was just going to be the same movie with a couple of different wrinkles. It's not as though after its climactic moment, the film completely rights its course, because for as off-the-wall it may initially appear, the resolution feels preordained, and it becomes a game of spectacle over compelling horror. Esther acts as this film's protagonist, yet the tension surrounding her circumstances is fitful, and there's always one goofy moment in store waiting to ruin its relative competency. Orphan: First Kill feels aware of its B-grade status and chooses to embrace that with this concept, but in execution, it defaults to a blockbuster-style conclusion. In this sense, you could accuse its twist of merely chasing the reasons why the original Orphan inserted itself into the pop culture conversation. This time, the effect is less potent because it felt like only half of something interesting.

Orphan: First Kill captures the dark tone of what's to unravel. It's a consistent experience across the board that will no doubt satisfy fans of this horror universe. However, this prequel is operating on a lot of goodwill from its predecessor, it makes an impassioned effort to stand apart — how successful it is will come down to personal taste and interpretations. There is less of a story to go around this time, and the film has to search around for effective storytelling, thankfully Isabelle Fuhrman is a strong enough pull to be worth the price of entry alone.

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