POSSIBLE SPOILERS ALERT!!!
The first Orphan released in 2009 had an intriquing twist on the Killer Kids subgenre of horror by having the character of Esther have a unique medical condition. If you haven’t seen it, read no futher, because there’s no way to provide a review of Orphan: First Kill without letting people know that Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is revealed to be a 30-something adult who suffers from hypopitularism, a condition that stunted her growth when she was younger making her appear to be a child. In the climax of Orphan, Esther is really Leena Klammer and had been confined to a mental hospital in Estonia because she has a violent mentality having murdered seven people including the last family who adopted her.
The movie was released in 2009 with Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga as the unsuspecting well-to-do adoptive parents. The movie played highly on the notion that Farmiga’s character suspected something was wrong while Sarsgaard’s character was always doubtful. It was mainly because Esther/Leena has a little bit of the Electra Complex where she wants to seduce the father figure while getting rid of the mother figure. Despite some controversy over Eastern European stereotypes and and criticism of adoptive children, the movie was a modest success grossing $78 million against a $20 million budget. It also managed to get some good reviews including a three-and-a-half star praise from late critic Roger Ebert who understood what the movie was trying to do.
However, Esther/Leena fucks around and finds out too much with Farmiga’s character who saving her real biological daughter, gave Esther/Leena a swift kick in the head, breaking her neck causing her to die instantly and sink down into a cold, icy, frozen pond. The twist is gone. There’s no way to make a sequel and there’s no way to do the old “they were revived” because Esther/Leena definitely got a broken neck at the end that there’s no way to get around. But since, she has a history before the start of the movie, why not go back toward the beginning?
I’m not a big fan of prequels because some of the mystery and thrill is gone. There’s no point in watching a horror/thriller especially if you know what the outcome is going in. But there’s still a twist coming that I’m not going to reveal because it ruins the fun. This one starts off back in the winter of 2007 at the Saarne Institute where an unfortunate art therapist, Anna Troyev (Gwendolyn Collins), has a bad first day on the job as she meets Leena who orchestrates an escape leaving two guards dead.
Little does she know, Leena has stowed away in her car and at her home, Anna is killed by Leena. She does a quick Internet search of missing children on Anna’s computer where she finds information on Esther Albright (Kennedy Irwin, who also acts as a body double for Furhman). The real Esther and Leena look alike so Leena hides the scars around her neck and wrists she got from having to be put in a straightjacket at Saarne and puts on some childish clothes and leaves Anna’s home. She’s later found by law enforcement and tells them her name is Esther.
The setting changes to Darien, Conn., where a married couple Allen and Tricia Albright (Rossif Sutherland and Julia Stiles) are approached by Inspector Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) who informs them that it’s possible they’ve found Esther. The story is that Esther was kidnapped four years earlier and taken to Russia, which explains her accent. Tricia flies overseas to Moscow but begins to notice some problems with Esther such as that Esther has forgotten about the death of her grandmother. Allen is happy that Esther is back and they bond more as he’s a famous artist and she wants to spend time with him in his studio. But Esther is also wanting to get closer to Allen.
Their son, Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) seems not to happy to have his long-lost sister back and Tricia begins to become suspicious. But there’s a reason behind this that I won’t reveal but you may be able to guess. Donnan also becomes suspicious but things begin to spiral out of control for both Esther/Leena as well as the Albrights.
Part of my frustration with prequels along with knowing the outcome is that the actors often look older but are supposed to be younger. Fuhrman is now 25 and was 23 when principal photography was made. She was 11 when the first movie was being filmed. She looked more like a child then than she does now. They use a lot of body doubles for scenes but most of these are shots from the back when you can tell it’s Irwin or other body double, Sadie Lee. Make-up was used along with forced perspective to make Fuhrman, who is only 5-foot-3 appear smaller. It doesn’t really work. I’m kinda reminded of the 2003 movie Tiptoes in which Gary Oldman played a dwarf and it seem they spent a lot of time dressing him in a certain and having him spend all his time on his knees with a walking cane.
While I admit the movie does have a nice twist two-thirds in that gives the final third a fun time to watch, I just felt that the middle part where Esther/Leena moves around the Albrights household was too much of a retread of the first one. Yes, there’s oddities as Esther doesn’t remember this or that. Also a few scenes don’t make sense when you consider the twist. A scene in which Tricia takes Esther/Leena to visit a child psychologist and asks to speak with the psychologist alone while Esther/Leena tries to eavesdrop seems more like it was made to throw us off.
The twist should’ve come a little sooner. At 99 minutes with credits, Orphan: First Kill stretches a thin plot even thinner. The beginning with the Saarne Institute is creepy and the missing child plotline clears up a huge plothole from the first one as there’s no way Leena would’ve been able to escape from an Eastern European mental hospital and travel to America without the proper paperwork, post 9/11. But it also begs the question, wouldn’t Estonia have put her mugshot through the local authorities and Interpol. Surely, there would be fingerprints or blood tests that could be perform.
Overall, I think people will enjoy the movie for Furhman’s performance. And Stiles, who seems to have turned in several wooden performances since her early 2000s heyday finally gets to have a little bit of fun in her role. Sadly, Sutherland, like Sarsgaard in the first, seems to be around just to react the same way over and over not seeing the bigger picture. And there’s the big question that was also posed at the end of The Good Son to what lengths will a parent go for their family.
What do you think? Please comment.