It was 13 years ago when a loving, unsuspecting family adopted a nine-year-old girl named Ester in 2009’s Orphan. At first, we thought we were witnessing all the fixings of a mischievous, evil child looking to tear her new family apart to varying degrees. With Ester, however, there was more than meets the eye — a hormonal disorder has a 33-year-old Estonian woman named Leena Klammer encased in a child’s body. As horrifying a prospect, it’s a twist on the “bad kid” motifs shown in 1993’s The Good Son and makes for some crazy situations. Given Hollywood’s current infatuation with prequels, re-quels, and all the above, Orphan: First Kill‘s premise had its work cut out for it.

For one, lead actress Isabelle Fuhrman is much older now, so the suspension of disbelief factor will be harder to pull off. Director William Brent Bell and cinematographer Karim Hussain use plenty of camera techniques to film Fuhrman from a lower point of view or behind with two body doubles. The age difference is noticeable at points; however, the film tries cleverly to account for the obvious. At the beginning of First Kill, the setting serves as a primer for those unfamiliar with Leena’s character or who have forgotten the first film. A long-time doctor inside the Saarne Institute informs a new teacher of Leena’s troubled history and penchant for using her condition to her advantage. From there, Leena hatches a bloody plot to impersonate a missing girl named Esther to infiltrate an affluent, wealthy American family.

The Albrights seem to have a beautiful house, lots of money, and many charitable events to entertain. However, with the loss of their daughter, things have changed. Allen (Rossif Sutherland) has lost his muster to be an artist while his wife Tricia (Julia Stiles) is trying to keep the family somewhat together. Their son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) is taking everything into stride — fencing and partying with friends. The sudden re-appearance of their daughter gives the family a sudden spark. Writers David Coggeshall, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and Alex Mace are incredibly aware of this premise’s campiness.

While the Albrights are collectively happy to see their “daughter,” she has a full-on accent and doesn’t remember simple memories as she should. No matter how long you’ve been grieving, you can’t be blind to common sense. Family psychiatrist Dr. Sager (Samantha Walkes) feels like Leena is performing. While it would be great for Leena to tie loose ends in trying to conceal her real identity, we saw this in the first Orphan film. There is some palpable anxiety at first, but it loses steam as it veers off into tried and tested tropes. That’s when Brent Bill flips the switch and turns First Kill into an intriguing cat-and-mouse game.

When Leena and Allen connect over drawing and painting portraits, he highlights the use of hidden messages in his painting — only revealed by a black light. It’s an on-the-nose overture to Leena’s condition, but there’s a sinister element to this well-off Connecticut trio. The acting of Julia Stiles then takes a black-hearted turn, serving as a formidable foe to Fuhrman’s familiarity with the setting. While the secrets and a match-up for control between Stiles and Fuhrman are intriguing to watch, the film still falls into formulaic choices.

Inspector Donnan (Hiro Kanagawa) is a detective who has been on the search for the “real” Esther for years, but becomes highly suspicious once she miraculously returns. These horror films always have an obligatory outside character trying to uncover the mystery, and this film has themes like that, which drags the tension down a bit. A conventional conclusion to this story might slightly hurt the film’s unique flip on its folklore. Still, First Kill knows you know what it is and plays into it — those elements are the most enjoyable ones.

Looks can deceive, but so can the portraits of the family. Did the inclusion of “Esther” break the family, or was she the stiff wind on a house of cards? Orphan: First Kill straddles the line between re-trending story ground (from its next film) and keeping things fresh — leaning into the fun and unconventional more.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures