Orphan: First Kill (2022) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): A little killer coming into US

“Orphan: First Kill”, a belated prequel to “Orphan” (2009), attempts to present the backstory of that little creepy but compelling villain of the 2009 film. Although it unfortunately stumbles more than once during its second half after steadily building up enough tension and creepiness during its first half, the movie works to some degree thanks to two good lead actresses, and it is a shame that it does not explore that much of the morbid relationship between their characters before heading to its expected finale.

The early part of the film revolves around how its titular character came into US several years before what happened in the 2009 film. Due to a certain rare medical condition of hers, Leena Klammer (Isabelle Fuhrman) looks like a young girl on the surface, but she is actually 31, and she is also a very dangerous psychopath who has been locked up in a mental hospital in Estonia before eventually making a bloody escape. Once she becomes free again, she immediately searches for a possible way to go to US, and we soon see her disguising herself as a certain American girl who was gone missing for several years.

Once Leena is “found” in Russia as Esther Albright, Esther’s mother Tricia (Julia Stiles) quickly comes to Russia to reunite with her lost daughter, and Leena certainly tries a lot to convince Tricia, who happens to be a very rich woman who can afford to fly right into Russia via a private jet plane. Although their first encounter is pretty awkward to say the least, Tricia soon comes to embrace Leena as her daughter, and they instantly go back to Tricia’s home in Connecticut while welcomed by Tricia’s artist husband and their teenager son.

At first, everything goes fairly well for both Leena and her new family. Although she still does not like being treated like a child as usual, Leena maintains her disguise in exchange of all the luxuries she can get as “Esther”, and Tricia’s husband is absolutely delighted when she demonstrates considerable artistic talent. As they come to spend more time together, Leena cannot help but attracted to him as an adult woman, and that accordingly makes her stay in his house longer than she planned at first.

In the meantime, things become a little more tense around Leena as several people notice something odd about her. In case of a psychiatrist who was once close to real Esther, she came to have some reasonable doubt as observing how “Esther” seems quite matured despite her young age. In case of a local cop who handled the case of real Esther’s missing at that time, he also has some reservation on the girl’s unlikely return, and it does not take much time for Leena to discern that she should be very discreet whenever she interacts with him or her psychiatrist.

Now this looks like more or less than a variation of what we already saw from the 2009 film, but then the movie suddenly takes a left turn in the middle point of the story. I will not go into details here for not spoiling anything to you, but I can tell you instead that our little lethal protagonist subsequently finds herself stuck in a situation which is quite twisted to say the least. As a matter of fact, you may become interested in how the hell she can possibly get away from that, even though you will also often be horrified by her sheer nastiness.

However, to my disappointment, the movie does not develop this changed circumstance of hers that much before eventually hurrying itself toward its foregone conclusion. While we are surely served with a series of creepy moments, they are mechanically doled out one by one without much thrill or excitement, and the finale feels contrived instead of generating any lasting dramatic impact.

Anyway, Isabelle Fuhrman, who was incidentally 12 when the 2009 film came out, shows admirable commitment here in this film. Besides looking as short and young as she was in the 2009 film thanks to the skillful utilization of make-up, body double, and forced perspective shots, she delves into her character’s morbid nature with lots of gusto, and you can see why she willingly plays her character despite being no less than 25 at present. Yes, Leena is not so likable to say the least, but she is rather fun to watch thanks to considerable personality and sophistication, and that certainly distinguishes her from a lot of run-of-the-mill psychopathic killers in movies.

In case of several performers around Fuhrman, most of them are stuck in their respective thankless roles, but Julia Stiles, who is no stranger to dealing with a bad seed considering her appearance in “The Omen” (2006), manages to bring more to her character than required. She functions mostly well next to Fuhrman, and I particularly enjoyed a little nasty moment of her, which somehow took me back to a certain memorably gruesome moment in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962).

In conclusion, “Orphan: First Kill” feels unnecessary for not being as creepy and entertaining as the 2009 film, but it is not a total waste of time due to the good efforts from Fuhrman and Stiles. Because I gave the 2009 film three stars, I give “Orphan: First Kill” 2.5 stars, but you may want to check it out someday if you really liked the 2009 film and are quite interested in its little vicious heroine’s past.

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