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Movie review: 'Orphan: First Kill' is deliciously sick and twisted

1/5
Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) returns in "Orphan: First Kill." Photo courtesy of Paramount+
Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) returns in "Orphan: First Kill." Photo courtesy of Paramount+

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Knowing there's an Orphan prequel spoils the twist of Orphan. But Orphan: First Kill, in theaters, available for digital purchase and streaming on Paramount+ Friday, adds devilish new twists to the franchise.

In 2007, Lena (Isabelle Fuhrman) breaks out of an Estonian institution. As fans of Orphan know, at this time Lena is actually a 31-year-old with a glandular condition that makes her look like a child.

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Lena looks up missing children and finds a close match in Esther Albright. So she poses as Esther, having escaped from kidnappers and returning to parents Tricia (Julia Stiles) and Allen (Rossif Sutherland) and brother Gunnar (Matthew Finlan).

Fuhrman was 12 when she played Esther in 2009's Orphan, portraying a 33-year-old who was supposed to look 9. Now she's 25 playing a 31-year-old who's supposed to look 7.

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You do have to suspend some disbelief that Fuhrman can still play Esther, but it's worth it for the bold idea of doing a prequel with the same actor. She pulled it off as a pre-teen and now she's closer to Esther's actual age.

The film introduces Fuhrman in the dark with flashing red light that obscures her face. In light she looks a bit older but as soon as she puts on the Esther wardrobe, she's back.

Those pigtails and that innocent smile are what sells Fuhrman as a deceptively sweet little girl. The filmmakers use simple techniques to make Esther appear to be child size next to adult co-stars.

Any medium shot or closer could lower Fuhrman below her co-stars, or have her co-stars stand on boxes. Shots with Fuhrman alone could use oversize sets and props to make her appear smaller.

In a wide shot, we only ever see Esther from behind or the side with her hair obscuring her face. That must be when they use an actual child for a body double.

First Kill is necessarily filmed differently because last time, they had a real 12-year-old actor to work with. It's fun just to watch the staging that utilizes different perspectives and doesn't break the illusion. The most glaring effect is some CGI fire, which is independent of Esther.

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The twist is out so this movie has a different experience than the first, which had viewers thinking a child was this malicious until the reveal. Still, it's so messed up to prey on this family who lost a child four years ago.

But the best part of Orphan: First Kill is a spoiler, because living with the Albrecht gets even more twisted. The surprises get gleefully even more messed up than Esther herself.

Once the film gets that deep, it shifts the focus away from the actor playing Esther anyway. You've bought into Fuhrman as 2007 Esther and now you're invested in how she pulls off this twisted ruse.

They should revisit Orphan every 10 years like the Before movies. Only in each Orphan, Fuhrman should be a decade older and see how long she can still play the childlike Esther.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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