In 2009, Jaume Collet-Serra gave the world Orphan, a criminally underrated horror film about a family adopting a sinister orphan. Thirteen years later, Paramount+ provides us with a prequel set a year before the Coleman family adopted Esther Albright (Isabelle Fuhrman). Orphan: First Kill gives us the backstory of the escaped psychiatric patient and how she made it to America under her new identity. It’s a concept that works as a logical next step to launching a possible franchise. Still, the result is a poorly written, lifeless horror movie that only manages to harm the compelling original film.
This movie was directed by William Brent Bell, who has previously helmed dreadful horror films such as The Devil Inside, Brahms: The Boy II, and most recently, Separation. While some have praised his newest work for leaning into Orphan‘s ludicrous premise and building on it, I see this as yet another installment of his never-ending career of atrocities, with a few moments of good direction throughout that never ultimately amounts to anything worthwhile. Directing is a big part of what makes horror work, and Jaume Collet-Serra’s steady hand behind the camera is sorely lacking in this film.
One of the only praises I can sing for this film is their commitment to bringing the premise to life. They brought back Fuhrmann to reprise her role as Esther, and she steps back into the role perfectly. She’s 25 years old, playing a younger version of the character she played when she was 11 years old. This was done using makeup, body doubles, and creative camera trickery instead of de-aging CGI. Of course, you must give credit to Bell and the crew, who made the illusion believable. But practical filmmaking is all the movie has to offer regarding its direction.
For the most part, Orphan: First Kill feels uninvolving. The movie is rarely scary and doesn’t always want to be. There’s an evident lack of suspense early on, and the lack of tension remains throughout much of the film. The opening sequence takes a surprising turn, but the movie is sorely missing a frightening atmosphere. Part of this is because the first film makes you think an innocent child is capable of creative, violent acts of murder. By the time this film rolls around, you know Esther’s backstory, and she essentially becomes the protagonist rather than the antagonist.
The characters are also a weak element of the film. Something the first film did exceptionally well that it doesn’t get enough credit for is balancing the scares with the character drama. The original Orphan slowly but surely gives backstories to nearly every member of the Coleman family. This film has Esther get taken in by a family, but nobody in that family has anything investing about them. For the first half of the movie, they are a very two-dimensional family, and it feels like a much inferior version of the original film because the character relationships are barely fleshed out.
Halfway through Orphan: First Kill, we have a genuinely surprising twist. The conventional first half leads to a huge surprise, but once the shock factor wears off and you get settled in for the ride, you realize that the twist has adverse effects on the treatment of Esther’s character. This movie commits a sin similar to Don’t Breathe 2 of turning a frightening antagonist into an unlikely antihero, and it’s difficult to be scared of Esther in this movie. As a result, the deaths lack an emotional impact, and some of the ideas in this film end up quite laughable.
Furthermore, the movie is inconsistent with Esther’s backstory established in the first film. Some things remain the same, but some don’t line up at all when you think about it. Because of poor creative choices and dull direction, Orphan: First Kill is a misfire of a prequel that recycles the same tropes and masks it with a few surprising plot twists. It lacks the original’s character depth and fear factor, resulting in a disappointing, empty experience.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 3 equates to “Bad.” Due to significant issues, this game feels like a chore to take in.