Review by C.J. Bunce

A lot of child actors who begin in horror roles tend to continue in the genre through their entire careers.  Why is that?  Take Isabelle Fuhrman, star of the 2009 surprise hit, Orphan, where at the age of 10 she starred opposite Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as Esther (it’s too late to call spoiler!) a 30-year-old posing as a 10-year-old; a 30-year-old with a disease that causes her body not to age so she’s a believable 10-year-old.  A movie that kooky sounding wouldn’t normally be one of the best psychological thrillers in its niche, but Fuhrman truly sold the performance.  Now at age 25, Fuhrman is back, this time playing her age–sort of–in one of those rare sequel/prequels that surpasses the original: Orphan: First Kill Are B-level horror movies supposed to be this good?

William Brent Bell, director of the similarly odd horror movie The Boy, was the perfect person to take the reins on this prequel.  First, Orphan: First Kill is fun in a similar vein as Farmiga’s Bates Motel prequel series.  It’s fun because of the special effects challenge, and audiences can’t help but know it upfront.  Bell uses all the cinema magic at his disposal to de-age, and de-size Fuhrman into the necessary 9-year-old look of the role.  Forced perspective and novel camera angles are used by cinematographer Karim Hussein (Firestarter, Hannibal), especially watching Esther, originally named Leena, as she launches her escape from an Estonia asylum.  It’s like being on an amusement park ride as she dodges in and out of hallways, and one can imagine the cameraman doing the same, switching between Fuhrman and a body double.

Where do Bell and Hussein slip up?  They don’t really, and if they do, who cares?  It’s obvious they gave this film their all, and the result is crazy visual magic.

But that’s only half of it.

David Coggeshall (Scream: The TV Series) steps in as the screenwriter for this sequel/prequel, and he doesn’t just phone it in.  He offers up some twists to the story that are surprising for what would ordinarily be a throwaway horror sequel.  Viewers may actually cheer for the franchise’s monster, but not so much like with Chucky or Freddy.  Coggeshall even has someone inquire about the issue of fingerprints or DNA almost at the same time as the audience.

Leena poses as Esther, a lost 9-year-old girl in the United States that she learns about on the Internet upon escaping the asylum.  She looks enough like the girl who has been missing for five years.  So it’s plausible, she thinks.  Reunited with her mother, played by Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, Jason Bourne) in her best performance in years, her father, played by Rossif Sutherland (The Expanse, Monk), and her brother, played by Matthew Finlan (Murdock Mysteries, The Terror), all she must do is find the right time to complete the con, grab some loot, and move on.

But nothing ever works as planned, even for a 30-year-old con artist posing as a 9-year-old.  A cop (played by Altered Carbon, Star Trek Discovery, The Man in the High Castle, iZombie, and Arrow’s Hiro Kanagawa) who investigated the loss of the real Esther arrives and Leena’s plan takes an unexpected turn.

It’s as good as any horror/thriller fan could hope for.  And just as it gets really good, instead of reveling in the fun, the script skips quickly ahead.  So it’s not just good, but tightly written, with no fluff or filler.  So keep an eye out for more from Bell, Coggeshall, and Fuhrman.  They all should be creating more good content like this.  And it doesn’t need to be only in the horror genre.  (About the only thing to complain about is the costuming–the film is set in 2007, but nobody in the film wears anything from the era, which is a silly thing to misfire).

Whether you’ve seen the original or not, catch Orphan: First Kill, now streaming on Paramount Plus.