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By Jake Watt
31st August 2022

In the 2009 thriller 'Orphan', directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ('Jungle Cruise'), grieving parents Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a Russian girl they believe to be only 9 years old. As Esther bludgeons nuns with hammers and plays mind games with her new family, it appears that this is just a typical "killer kid" flick. The film hinges on a huge twist: Esther suffers from hypopituitarism, a rare hormonal disorder that stunts her physical growth and causes proportional dwarfism that keeps her looking like a child. She's really a woman in her thirties and she's got a crush on her new foster dad. It pushes the movie into another level of icky, unpleasant nastiness.

Directed by William Brent Bell ('The Boy'), 'Orphan: First Kill' is a prequel set in 2007. It sees Estonian thief and psychopathic killer Leena Klammer orchestrate an escape from the Saarne Institute and assume the identity of an American girl named Esther Albright, who went missing in 2003. Posing as the lost girl, a police officer approaches Leena and she introduces herself as "Esther", claiming that her parents are in the United States.


Esther ends up in Darien, Connecticut, with a new family - wealthy artist Allen Albright (Rossif Sutherland), his philanthropist wife Tricia (Julia Stiles, 'Hustlers'), and douchey son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan). Not only does Esther fall in love with Allen, but she discovers the Albrights have a few secrets of their own.

Esther was inspired by the May 2007 media coverage of 34-year-old Barbora Skrlova, an orphan who abused her first adoptive family and ran away from the police when caught. 'Orphan: First Kill' seems to be inspired by the 1997 case of a French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who pretended to be Nicholas Patrick Barclay, an American boy who had disappeared in Texas at the age of 13 in 1994. It also has shades of the JonBenét Ramsey case. The plot is actually rather well constructed, with Esther ending up in a household straight out of V. C. Andrews' 'Flowers in the Attic'.

As is standard procedure with horror sequels, there are more kills, fewer scares, and an overall emphasis on spectacle over story. The tone is far lighter and more comical than the original film, not unlike the difference between Tom Holland's 'Child's Play' and John Lafia's 'Child's Play 2'.

The camera lens appears to have been coated in vaseline, all the adults wear platform shoes except for Fuhrman, and children are used as Fuhrman's stand-ins for behind-the-back shots where her face isn't seen.

Born in 1997, Isabelle Fuhrman was about 10 years old when the original 'Orphan' was filmed. Fuhrman is 25 years old now and doesn't remotely pass for a prepubescent child anymore. Instead of using costly CGI, cinematographer Karim Hussain ('Possessor') employs forced perspective to capture angles meant to make Fuhrman look like she's four feet tall. The camera lens appears to have been coated in vaseline, all the adults wear platform shoes except for Fuhrman, and children are used as Fuhrman's stand-ins for behind-the-back shots where her face isn't seen. At no point in the movie does any of this manage to look convincing. However, as sight gags go, it is very, very funny.

'Orphan' was short, vicious, and unafraid of surrounding young children with swearing and gore. Far less nasty and depressing than Collet-Serra's film, 'Orphan: First Kill' is the movie that some people insisted James Wan's terrible 'Malignant' was – it is laugh-out-loud silly and completely self-aware. There are countless WTF gonzo moments, and the script is littered with lines of dialogue such as, "So let me get this straight: you're a grown ass woman and a wanted criminal? That is... beyond fucked up." - and - "If you think I'm going to let a psycho dwarf destroy what I have built, you are mistaken." Fuhrman and Julia Stiles deliver these lines with relish, clearly having a lot of fun with the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

I can only hope Fuhrman reprises the role again, playing an even younger and less likely version of Esther. Perhaps they could scrape together enough cash to CG her head onto a toddler body, a la the classic "baby Forest Whitaker" sketch from 'Key & Peele'? In any event, I had a hell of a time with 'Orphan: First Kill'.

RELEASE DATE: 01/09/2022
RUN TIME: 01h 39m
CAST: Isabelle Fuhrman
Julia Stiles
Rossif Sutherland
Hiro Kanagawa
Matthew Finlan
Samantha Walkes
David Lawrence Brown
Lauren Cochrane
Gwendolyn Collins
Kristen Sawatzky
DIRECTOR: William Brent Bell
WRITER: David Coggeshall
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