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'Orphan: First Kill' review: Sinister prequel full of surprises

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


On paper, a prequel to “Orphan,” which already featured one of the most shocking and genuine “did not see that coming” twists of the previous decade, seemed dead on arrival. But much to my surprise, “Orphan: First Kill” manages to up the camp factor and deliver another firm third act switcheroo in the same way its 2009 predecessor did. Credit to director William Brent Ball and screenwriter David Coggeshall for not rehashing the previous story and taking the character of Esther Albright into new and unseen directions.

Though it doesn’t show Esther’s “first kill” so to speak, it does layout the origins for what eventually caused her to be a diabolical force. Picking up in Estonia, 2007, where Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman – still finding new and creative methods of enriching this character) is known as Lenna, a 30-year-old woman currently undergoing intense psychological evaluations at a mental asylum. She’s gained a reputation among the staff as the institution’s most dangerous patient, having arrived after brutally murdering a family that was looking after her. Old habits don’t die hard, and Esther claws her way out of the asylum and stumbles into a new family after researching a missing child database and finding one she could feasibly pass for.

Tricia (Julie Stiles) and Allen (Rossif Sutherland) are stunned at the recovery of their daughter who was taken four years ago. They don’t question the logistics or schematics of the whole ordeal (she was “found” in Russia), and it’s quickly asserted the parents must except things have changed for the kiddo. Don’t expect anyone to poke holes in the story or try understanding how Esther doesn’t seem scared by the experience but do expect plenty of tension and sturdy B-movie thrills.

That’s because “Orphan: First Kill” drops a satisfying twist early, allowing the movie to build around it and sizzle until an operatic climax, outfitted with the signature tinted-cosmic colors that’s become a staple of the franchise, unspools. “First Kill” is also significantly bloodier and more gruesome than “Orphan” which was a domestic thriller with horror elements built into its DNA. And even though William Brent Bell isn’t exactly known for a critically acclaimed filmography (“The Boy” remains a highlight, but I remember sitting justifiably upset after a screening of “The Devil Inside”) his spin in the “Orphan” universe proves a late summer treat with more than a few tricks up its sleeve. 

Grade: B

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL will be available in Theaters, On Digital and Streaming on Paramount+ August 19.


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