IT'S ORPHAN' TIME
Orphan: First Kill (15)
Starring: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland
Review: RJ Bland
Come on, let's be honest. Kids can be pretty creepy can't they? Even the cute, well-behaved ones. I mean, logically, these little people are much more vulnerable and intellectually inferior than the grown ups around them and it's this inversion that works so well. What if these little kiddies, who we instinctively want to nurture and protect, were actually a threat? The thought doesn't sit comfortably with most of us. Kids are meant to be innocent after all. However, evil sprogs have been around in horror movies for decades, ranging from The Bad Seed in the 1950's to The Omen in the 70's all the way to to those horrid little shits in Robert Eggers' The Witch (2015). Now although Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan (2009) was not technically a film about an evil child, for all intents and purposes, that's what it was. It's also a film that is generally quite well regarded amongst genre fans and turned in a healthy profit to match. However, it wouldn't be the first title to spring to mind when thinking of films that were due a follow up. Yet here we are, with Orphan: First Kill...
Set two years before the events of it's predecessor, First Kill begins with Leena (Isabelle Fuhrman) locked up in the Saarne Institute in her native Estonia. For the uninitiated (although if you are, you probably shouldn't be reading this review!), Leena is suffering from a rare hormonal disorder that makes her look about 10 when in fact she's three times that age. However, she isn't at Saarne for her own safety, she is there because she poses a real danger to anyone around her. Something she demonstrates when she orchestrates a bloody escape from the institute. After breaking out, she googles a list of missing girls from the USA and finds that she bears a striking resemblance to a girl called Esther Allbright, who went missing four years ago. It's not long before she is 'reunited' with parents, a wealthy couple living in Connecticut and her older brother. However, it was never going to be a case of happy families was it?
Quite often, origin stories fall rather flat in genre movies. Generally speaking, the more we learn about antagonists that fascinate us, the less effective they become (yeah, we're looking at you Rob Zombie). However, First Kill doesn't get bogged down in its own mythology. We don't really spend too long on Leena's backstory or the events in Estonia. What we do get to do however is delve a little bit deeper into the psyche of this precocious young sociopath. Interestingly, amongst all the violence and cunning, there are glimpses of something a bit more human and poignant. She's a monster for a reason and although we never fully reach anything approaching empathy, First Kill does a solid job of fleshing her out and roughening her edges a little. Of course, a lot of the success of this goes to Isabelle Fuhrman who is captivating to watch. The decision to not use CGI to de-age her means that she (obviously) doesn't look the same as she did in the first film. But director William Brent Bell's careful direction (and some stellar work from the make-up department) mean that it's never an issue. Her nemesis here – her 'mother' – is excellently played by an often underrated Julie Stiles. Every time these two interact, it's a joy.
Like its predecessor, the film relies on a twist at the midpoint. It's what elevated the first film beyond your average evil kid horror flick. The twist in First Kill will undoubtedly have a huge impact on how you feel about the film afterwards. When you gamble, there is always risk but the reality is that the first half plays out pretty much exactly how you expect. The big reveal here spins the story off in a completely different direction and is ultimately necessary. It aspires to break new ground in this story, not just be a dull retread.
There is a campiness to First Kill that not everyone will warm to. The seriousness of the first has been melted somewhat. Esther's new family are written with very broad strokes and although there is no shortage of violence and blood, it lacks some of the tension and scares of the first. The first half may feel like treading water at times but an action packed – if rather absurd – final act means that it all ends on a high note. Is it as good as Jaume Collet-Serra's original? Maybe not. But as far as prequels go, it's not half bad.