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Review of ‘orphan: First Kill’: Still Slashing After All These Years

Isabelle Fuhrman, who had to be convincing as a 9-year-old in “Orphan,” reprises her role 13 years later in this prequel set two years earlier.

While not a classic, “Orphan” (2009), starring Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard as adoptive parents to a homicidal adoptee, deserves a place in the pantheon of bad-seed thrillers, both for Farmiga’s dedication to the role and one jolt so outrageously fatuous that it somehow plays as brilliant.

Now there’s “Orphan: First Kill,” a belated prequel directed by a different man (the clumsy William Brent Bell instead of the first film’s Jaume Collet-Serra). Apart from an early escape set piece designed to resemble a fluid take, it appears to have been shot on a low-budget video format and lacks the original’s scares and suavity. However, the plot’s derangement and a bizarre casting gambit elevate it above standard straight-to-streaming schlock.

To begin with, how could Isabelle Fuhrman, who had to be convincing as a child of age 9 13 years ago, reprise the role in her 20s, fresh off her acclaimed turn as a monomaniacal college rower in “The Novice”? The filmmakers have metamorphosed Fuhrman within license using a combination of doubles, stagecraft, and sly framing and optics tricks — Fuhrman’s face and feet are almost never clearly seen in the same shot.

The actress’s resurrected murderous character — who here occasionally borders on camp, playing piano with bloody hands or swigging vodka in an airplane lavatory — may be the film’s most grounded aspect. The plot, set in 2007, follows Leena (her real name) as she worms her way from Estonia to Connecticut, where she impersonates the missing child of a wealthy couple (Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland).

If “Orphan” was an unlikely vehicle for Farmiga, “Orphan: First Kill” provides red meat for Stiles, who plays a protective mother with surprising zeal.

How Orphan: First Kill Made Isabelle Fuhrman Appear to Be Twelve Years Old Once More

In 2009, Isabelle Fuhrman cemented her place in horror history by portraying the murderous Esther in the killer-child (?) film “Orphan.” Fuhrman was only 12 years old when she played the supposed 9-year-old girl who turned out to be a 30-year-old woman posing as a child.

“Orphan” was shockingly based on a true story, and Fuhrman’s ability to convincingly portray not only a child but also an adult with the appearance of a child was masterful.

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Now, more than a decade later, Fuhrman reprises her role as Esther in “Orphan: First Kill” despite being in her mid-20s. With the advancements of CGI and the ethically questionable de-aging technology, it would have been simple for the filmmakers of “Orphan: First Kill” to simply digitize Fuhrman’s face to make him appear younger, but they opted for a more practical approach.

In an interview published in the August 2022 issue of Total Film, director William Brent Bell expressed his delight at Fuhrman’s return. “I looked completely different from age 25 to age 12, but she resembled me so closely that it could work,” Bell said. On the whole, he is correct. Together with some old-fashioned filmmaking techniques, Fuhrman was able to convincingly portray a child due to the resemblance between her current and childhood appearances. As Bell said:

A matter of perspective

Bell continued by stating that nearly everything with which Fuhrman interacted as Esther was viewed from a forced perspective. “Whether it’s the size of her fork or putting her co-stars on a platform, it’s always an exciting challenge,” he said. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Fuhrman echoed the sentiments, noting that her childlike appearance was also achieved without makeup:

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Fuhrman also stated that it was difficult for her to play an adult while playing the role of a child. The tables have now been turned. “I’m so disturbed right now because I’m 9 years old again, and it doesn’t make sense,” she explained. “I was thinking, ‘How do I revisit this part while also convincingly playing a child?'”

“Orphan: First Kill” serves as a prequel to the events of the first film, revealing Esther’s backstory as an adult woman named “Leena.” The film will highlight Vera Farmiga’s character Kate Coleman‘s discovery in “Orphan,” in which she discovered Leena was a dangerous woman who escaped an Estonian psychiatric facility while impersonating the missing child of a wealthy American family.

Fuhrman co-stars with Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland in the film. Fuhrman is also the first adult actor to play a child role again… while the character is still a child.