Scary Child

It’s not quite an origin story but Orphan: First Kill delves into the terrifying development of Esther into an amoral psychopath lurking inside the body of a child and a glimpse of what led to the events depicted in the first Orphan.

An underrated modern thriller, Orphan came out in 2009 and became a horror staple. Initially launched during the pandemic, few expected anything from this prequel by William Brent Bell (The Boy). Orphan: First Kill took me by complete surprise with capable performances from its small cast, a stylish atmosphere, and one of the year’s best twists.

Orphan First Kill took me by complete surprise with capable performances from its small cast

Actress Isabelle Fuhrman shockingly reprises Esther over a decade after the first Orphan and does a superb job maintaining the creepy intensity which previously infused her portrayal. Twelve years later, Fuhrman credibly plays the role of a 31-year-old trapped in a ten-year-old’s body. Sure, viewers have to suspend their disbelief just a little harder this time around but the tense atmosphere and shocking developments will quickly distract you from doubts.

This time Esther acquires a nemesis intelligently handled by veteran actress Julia Stiles (Riviera), who has been stringing strong performances together across film and television in recent years. Stiles is a major reason why Orphan: First Kill works as well as it does.

As we learned in the first film, Esther is a full-blown adult psychopath, hiding in a child’s body thanks to a rare form of dwarfism. After a daring escape from a mental facility in Estonia, Esther successfully impersonates the missing daughter of wealthy American socialites.

Claiming to have been kidnapped for several years, Esther is welcomed with open arms by Allen and Tricia (Julia Stiles) grateful their daughter has been found. Their older son Gunnar, now a fencing champion, seems distraught by the return of his supposed sister.

Orphan: First Kill has excellent writing and strong characters. It manages to subvert expectations with a stunning twist that flips the entire story on its head. The prequel somehow manages to keep things fresh and lively despite most already knowing Esther’s secret. A key is the mother, who desperately attempts integrating her missing “daughter” back into the family despite signs Esther has rather curious gaps in her memory. Tricia is keenly developed in the taut script and soon enters a battle of fierce wills between mother and daughter impersonator.

Weaknesses include Rossif Sutherland as Esther’s supposed father, a painter who works exclusively in black light but who stopped working when his daughter went missing. He’s a trite, shallow character who mostly serves as a plot device. The final act also becomes a touch messy and rushed, hurtling towards an inevitable outcome.

Prequels rarely work out, especially years and years after the original cult gem left little room for exploration, but the return of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther and the year’s most shocking twist make Orphan: First Kill a rare exception to the rule. William Brent Bell surprises with a terrifying thriller built for fans of the original Orphan with twisted family drama and chilling evil.

Video

In terms of absolute video quality, Orphan: First Kill is underwhelming. The opening scenes set in Estonia are hazy with murky lighting, an overcooked atmosphere of dim shadow delineation and rampant softness. The action in America improves the raw 1.85:1 experience, though the palette remains flat with desaturated colors. Consistently dull, the depth and definition are average at best. There isn’t much to get excited about from the thriller’s darker tones and lifeless cinematography.

The main feature runs 98 minutes on a BD-25 with a sufficient AVC encode. There are no substantial banding problems or encoding issues. Paramount offers up a 1080p transfer from the DI with no noticeable flaws.

The poor video quality is strange considering the movie was shot on ARRI Alexas and mastered at 4K resolution for its digital intermediate. Paramount skipped the movie on UHD but it is available at that resolution on streaming services. Given the limited eye candy, the decision to skip a 4K UHD release makes perfect sense.

Audio

Orphan: First Kill’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio provides serviceable thrills in its limited scope. The clear highlight of the soundtrack is an old Jimmy Durante tune “Glory of Love” which becomes something of an ironic touch in Esther’s life. Esther also likes showing off her piano skills, allowing an intimacy in the front soundstage with delicate notes and eerie silence.

The surround mix is fairly conservative with some ambient effects. Dialogue is cleanly intelligible. There’s less oomph and discrete action than most horror films deliver these days.

Optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles play in a white font. Descriptive Audio is available in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Extras

No special features are included. This is a barebones disc. Interestingly enough, the Region B release got a brief making-of featurette. Early pressings include a slick slipcover.

A digital copy is included by Paramount which redeems in HDX quality on either VUDU or iTunes.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page for more details.

Orphan: First Kill
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Movie

Esther returns in this tightly scripted prequel which brings Isabelle Fuhrman back and offers one of the year’s most surprising mid-story twists.

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4
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User Review
3.5 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 45 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: