Orphan: First Kill is the silliest movie of all time. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s more of an unsettling reality. Sure, there are movies featuring literal men in rubber suits or films that are poorly produced in terms of audio, setting, or cinematography; these are budgetary obstacles combined with inexperienced filmmaking, explaining away some of the ineptitude. Likewise, there are movies with incredibly cheesy dialogue, cartoonish gore, and bad acting – usually deliberate choices that are trying to be over the top or instances where the filmmakers are way out of their element. But, no, what makes First Kill such a silly, goofy, glorious film is it’s not straining itself to be any of those things; it does it effortlessly, with the most subtle wink, the sliest of all grins. That’s because this is not a movie. It is a performance art in the name of indifference.
So, for this review, I will not be reciting the plot of this movie beyond basic tenets because the plot isn’t the point. I will not go into great detail about the performances. There’s acting in this movie; some are good, some are not so good, and some are a treat for the eyes. No, this review is meant to relay an experience, an experience that can only be shared in moments. But first, a brief refresher. This movie is a prequel (there’s that word, more on this later) to the horror cult classic Orphan (2009). The premise of this series is that an adult woman named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) pretends to be an adolescent girl to dupe families into adopting her. If you hear this premise and burst into laughter, that is hilarious. If you hear this premise and somehow manage not to laugh, that in itself is hilarious.
But enough laughter, on to the serious business of this film, as Esther attaches herself to a new family under dubious circumstances. There’s a mom (Julia Stiles), a papa (Rossif Sutherland), and a brother (Matthew Finlan). Papa elicits two particularly fascinating lines of dialogue. The first is when he asks Esther, “What’s your poison?” This is not in reference to cocktails, but to Esther’s preferences for painting… it makes no sense, even in context. Later, he remarks, “OK, 30 seconds, and then we can see what you do with paint!” This one does happen to make sense in context, which makes you hate the line even more.
The brother is a wild character; the movie tells us so because it plays EVIL by Interpol while he fences in his introductory scene. But he’s not just a violent barbarian but also a spiffy dresser as later we see him wearing a pink dress shirt with an obnoxiously large bowtie. He also hosts a house party with the best house music you’ll hear all year. I particularly loved the song with the lyrics, and I’m not kidding, “SHALALALALALALA! SHALALALALALA! SHALALALALALALA! SHALALALALALALA!” This plays for like a good 3 minutes. I assume this was used because the studio has no interest in paying royalties for a song you’ve actually heard of – they won’t be a part of your system. This movie’s “You know what, fuck it…” energy is a 12 out of 10.
Then there’s Mama Bear, and Julia Stiles is the only one in this movie that can step up to the cinematic brilliance of Isabella Fuhrman. Stiles also gets off several lines of dialogue to Esther that could be considered ableist but gets away with it because she says it with such leisurely savagery. Nothing gets across how great this character is better than when she, with a straight face, tells her husband, “You are a great painter. People miss seeing your work.” I almost believed her for a split second. Mind you, she says this line in the same tone as when she argued with a friend, over the phone, about a checkbook dispute. Also, she uses the same tone when she states, “You are gonna sleep like a fucking baby tonight.”
Mama bear also, weirdly, has a photo on her phone where she and Esther are posing together like two cabinet members in the Oval Office. Mind you, this mother/daughter pairing has only known each other for about a week, and the relationship has been icy the entire time. So, when the hell did they take this wholesome, family-sitcom picture?
Esther’s entire plan seems haphazard, like she, much like this movie, just wings it every day. One of her novel ideas is practicing saying, “Mommy!” This means we must watch her recite this to herself about 13 times in a row. I also enjoyed this exchange she has later:
“You forgot to fill your glass… well, welcome home, Esther.”
“You said that already!”
The movie attempts to give further backstory to the Esther character but doesn’t really explain that much that you wouldn’t already know after seeing the first film. This isn’t a bad thing, but evidence of the film’s episodic approach. It functions almost like a future installment, a sequel that documents another adventure for the character. This leads me to perhaps my most controversial take – there’s no such thing as prequels. They’re all sequels, at least in a spiritual sense. Sure, you can set a story chronologically before the original work. However, the creators (and the audience) are still using their knowledge of the original work when they approach the ‘prequel’. Thus, everything is, in part, a reaction to what came before, for better or worse.
First Kill exemplifies that as it improves on various aspects of the original. Most notably, it gives a better reason for why Esther grows an attachment to the father of the house – they bond over their love for painting and artwork. Papa is also positioned as a very sympathetic character, unlike his predecessor. I am not exaggerating when I say this man is on the verge of tears in every scene he appears. It’s also worth noting that Esther has a Zaddy fetish, as evidenced by the first film and here when she watches Shirley Temple’s The Little Princess, which includes the cheesiest line in this movie: “No Daddy, I know you by heart. You’re INSIDE my heart!” At this point, I’m demanding the next prequel in this franchise to give us the backstory on Esther’s daddy issues, maybe by even seeing her actual childhood with her father. Just have Fuhrman play the same character, but she’s actually nine years old. It’ll be great, no de-aging technology either. Just get out of the way and let her chew scenery and cook.
Speaking of prequels, it’s been 13 years since the original movie. It’s almost shocking there aren’t, like, nine of these movies already. Just have Esther hop from state to state and let the shenanigans commence. Mix it up, too, and have her taken in by families of different ethnicities. We should have an Orphan in Baltimore, one in Canada, and one in Miami. And if the franchise is still putting out bangers, let’s get adventurous and go to Singapore. If they’re all going to be this zany, I’ll take as many as Hollywood can pump out.
The original Orphan succeeded because it was played straight, had an exciting payoff, and featured standout performances from Vera Farmiga and Fuhrman. But First Kill isn’t even attempting to be a serious drama. It is pantomime, a stage play that is somehow going through the motions while simultaneously going over the top in every scene. It’s filmed like a CBS procedural but has wacky moments reminiscent of the Chucky franchise. This is a movie where a character goes “There you are!!” and still doesn’t find who they were after for another five minutes. This is a movie where the score is way better than it needed to be – like they could have seriously just played silence. My expectations weren’t very high. We’re also treated to a hysterical but kind of great fight scene (I’ll even forgive the shaky cam). Finally, this is a movie that ends on a single teardrop like this is Schindler’s List or something. The audacity is as impressive as it is fascinating.
Some viewers may find Orphan: First Kill to be a dull experience… I promise you the movie doesn’t care. This movie does not give a damn if you find it boring. It’s clocking in its 8 hours on the job and then going home. In turn, it is remarkable how satisfied the film is with how unremarkable it is. So much so that you’re almost surprised when competent filmmaking or a good line reading turns up in the movie. Like, why did they choose that moment to put in the effort, but not those other moments?
Ultimately, the film offers a wild window into human ego, insecurity, and callousness. These are a bunch of flawed characters that shouldn’t be in the same room with one another for their own well-being. Yet, this ridiculous fable about a stunted con artist somehow has pathos I’m invested in. This speaks to why this movie can be so the bottom of the barrel, yet you do not want to take your eyes off the screen. The worst movie I saw this year was The Requin – zero out of five-star catastrophe, where everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Even as I laughed at The Requin, as it is very unintentionally hilarious, it was a miserable experience I couldn’t wait to conclude. That’s the difference. Orphan: First Kill is not a good movie, I refuse to even judge it as such, but it is an entertaining and delirious experience. One that I did not want to end.