It's surprising really, that there is little fanfare around the exploitative nature of 2009's Orphan. We meet a child, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) who is exceedingly polite, wears old fashioned clothes and seems to hold a chilling secret. By the time their 90 minutes are up, we know that Esther is actually a 30 something years old Estonian called Lena. She has a medical condition that has prevented her aging past ten years old, and has spent most of her life in an institution for the criminally insane. Exploitative of course because, there are conditions that affect growth and aging, and like all these films they use these traits to other and alienate the sufferers of those conditions. Also, don't adopted children get enough flak without them also being scary murderous 30 year olds? But it looks like Twitter never got hold of this one, and so we get a prequel.
Why a prequel you might ask? Well, how did Esther get from Estonia to an orphanage in the United States? And there you have it, Orphan: First Kill is here to answer that pressing question.
Orphan: First Kill takes us back to when Esther, originally called Lena, was 31 years old, and plays out her escape from the asylum. This isfollowed by her research to find a family with a missing child she resembles. There's some obvious violence, some gross incompetence and a large suspension of disbelief.
When Esther reaches the family, matriarch Julia Stiles (Tricia Albright), patriarch Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and their older child Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) do their best to ingratiate Esther into their lives. Allen seems most keen to rekindle his affection for her, especially once he finds that they have a shared love of painting.
Tricia, Gunnar and local cop Detective Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) are less endeared. And begin to suspect that Esther may not be what she at first appears.
The first half of Orphan: First Kill is disappointingly generic; there's some kills, some creeps, and not a lot else. The cinematography is muddy, as is the sound design, and thanks to lead actress Fuhrman now being 25 as opposed to 16 like she was in the first film, it's hard to believe anyone would buy that she is 9 years old. She is an adult, and she looks like one.
However, it is worth sticking with. At the midway point, there is a plot twist which is so wild and bold that it feels like a completely different film, and it is all the better for it. There is a massive tonal shift that suddenly changes what we're watching from a generic boring thriller that isn't really going anywhere, to a gruesome dark comedy. It's at this point that you realise why Julia Stiles is cast, because she is brilliant.
Of course with a prequel we always know where we're going to end up, and Orphan: First Kill is no different. But thankfully, eventually, it is a fun ride.
Signature Entertainment presents Orphan: First Kill exclusively in Cinemas from 19th August