“Orphan: First Kill” is a campy delight

The (not so) long-awaited prequel to the 2009 movie “Orphan” had no right being this fun

“Orphan: First Kill” is a slasher from director William Brent Bell which serves as a prequel to the 2009 film, “Orphan.” Unfortunately, I will have to spoil the first film before really talking about “Orphan: First Kill,” so I recommend that you watch the original if you haven’t already. It is really stupid, but it is also an enjoyably campy horror experience bolstered by great performances and one of my favorite horror movie twists.

Spoilers for “Orphan” (2009): “Orphan” follows couple Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard), who adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl named Esther (a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman). After numerous suspicious events occur, Kate starts to suspect that Esther is not what she seems. Sure enough, we learn that Esther is actually a 33-year-old, murderous asylum escapee named Leena, who has a hormonal disorder that causes proportional dwarfism.

This twist is already wacky, but it’s made even better by Fuhrman’s performance. When playing Esther, she gives the character a superficial sweetness while also giving the audience hints that there’s something wrong. The entire movie depends on this 12-year-old’s performance, and she delivers.

Now with the table dressing out of the way, let’s talk about “Orphan: First Kill.” The film follows Leena as she escapes from her mental institution and poses as Esther, the missing daughter of an American family. When she heads to the States, she starts to manipulate the family, consisting of father Allen (Rossif Sutherland), mother Tricia (Julia Stiles) and son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).

I went into this movie with the expectation that it would be pretty bad. Not only have I hated Bell’s other films (“The Boy” and “Brahms: The Boy II”), but I was also very skeptical about how this film would de-age a returning Fuhrman without CGI. Thankfully, “Orphan: First Kill” manages to be as entertainingly stupid as the original – if not more so.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. As stated before, this is a prequel to “Orphan,” which was filmed when Fuhrman was 12 years old. “Orphan: First Kill” was filmed with a 23-year-old Fuhrman … who is now meant to be playing a 9-year-old. The film attempts to make the actress appear younger through the use of makeup, a body double and forced perspective shots, but this wasn’t enough to conceal the fact that this is clearly a grown woman playing a grown woman pretending to be a child. I appreciate the lack of CGI, and I’m impressed that Bell took on such a gargantuan task in the first place, but I’m not entirely sure that he succeeded.

With all that said, there’s a lot about this film that I loved. It was exciting to see Fuhrman reprise the role that launched her career in the first place, and she killed it once again. In spite of the 12-year gap between both films, Fuhrman fully encapsulates Esther’s creepiness, insanity and false sweetness. It feels like she’s been playing this character for decades.

The supporting cast and characters are also solid. At first, I felt like Stiles was a bit wooden; however, by the halfway point, a plot element recontextualized the character’s behavior and Stiles’ acting choices, and I found her to be pretty entertaining.

Surprisingly enough, my favorite aspect of the film would probably be the story. I had assumed that I would not be a fan of the script, mainly because of the fact that this is a prequel. In the first film, Kate and John are told that Esther’s previous family was killed in a house fire.

So while watching “Orphan: First Kill,” this information was always on my mind. In spite of this, the film manages to go in some pretty interesting directions. There is a plot twist halfway through the film that made me pause and take 15 minutes to process what just happened. I don’t want to spoil this film’s twists and turns, but I wasn’t able to predict any of the craziness of its second half. In spite of knowing how the film would end, I was still excited to see what would happen before then.

All in all, “Orphan: First Kill’’ is a trashy and fun time. If you’re a fan of campy horror (or even the original “Orphan”), then you should definitely check this film out.

RATING: 7/10