Orphan: First Kill: if you thoughts hobbits were awkward…

, | Movie reviews

Director Jaume Collet-Serra gave the original Orphan the Hitchcockian touches it needed to be more than just a throwaway evil kid movie. And it had a great cast. Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga know what they’re doing. But what made Orphan stand out was Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance. She was a new kind of evil kid. So innocent looking, of course, but so off-kilter with the Little Bo Peep ruffled dresses, the lace choker and ribbons around her wrists, and the Estonian accent. Who even knows what an Estonian accent sounds like? But the diminutive Miss Fuhrman — she was 11 years old when they shot Orphan in 2006 — was a powerhouse, and she carried the movie with ease. (To see her carry another movie, check out The Novice from 2021. She shows off a physical intensity you usually only get with action movies and fight scenes.)

So it’s great that she’s back in an Orphan sequel, right? Well, kind of. Since her character died at the end of the first movie, this has to be a prequel. But the actress is an adult now, so how can she play Esther, who is a couple years younger than she was in the original? I mean, yeah, the twist is that she’s a grown woman trapped in a child’s body, but no one would look at Isabelle Fuhrman today and mistake her for an eleven-year-old child, much less a nine-year-old child.

So Orphan: First Kill made the, uh, interesting decision to cheat.

When shot from the front, Esther is played by Fuhrman. Most of the time, it looks like she’s just on her knees. Or maybe the other actor is standing on an apple crate. For some shots, it seems like they dug a trench next to the other actors and Fuhrman stands in the trench, or sometimes even walks alongside the other actors who are standing outside the trench. But most of the time, she just Dorfs it, kneeling next to the other actors so she appears short. Whenever she moves, the scenes are carefully edited for continuity so the reverse shot is of a child double doing the same thing. There might be some CG shenanigans, but they’re sparing. Which makes Orphan: First Kill an exercise in supposedly clever editing.

Which is, in fact, no such thing. Firstly because Fuhrman simply doesn’t look the part. The proportions are all wrong. It’s incredibly jarring from moment to moment, because I’m constantly aware when Fuhrman is onscreen and when she’s not. I’m constantly aware when Esther can turn her face to the camera and when she can’t. I’m constantly aware that the camera angles are carefully set and inviolable. I’m constantly aware when the other actors are talking to a child double and when they’re talking to Fuhrman. I’m constantly aware that Orphan: First Kill is a distracting and drawn-out camera gimmick. This was all a terrible idea. Why am I still even watching?

But then the third act happens. Then there’s that spark of creativity I was hoping for, the one that keeps me watching movies long after I should have quit. Because sometimes a movie like Orphan: First Kill has a pay-off worth the wait. And a rationale for bringing Julia Stiles along, who feels out of place until she’s not. Because the third act cat-and-mouse (!) between Fuhrman and Stiles is exactly the development I needed not just to keep watching, but to be glad I watched it.

Orphan: First Kill is nowhere near as good as the original, of course, and all that distracting camera work is a high price to pay. It’s a long hour fretting over whether it was worth bringing Fuhrman back, and horror director William Brent Bell has to flail around for a while before the movie finds its footing. But in the end, Orphan: First Kill made the right call and, once again, it couldn’t have done it without Isabelle Fuhrman.

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