The Pitch: Remember Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the precocious tot who turned out to be a thirtysomething psychopath from Estonia with hypopituitarism? The one who terrified Vera Farmiga and her well-to-do New England family in 2009’s surprisingly chilling Orphan? In the grand tradition of Annabelle: Creation and Ouija: O-ouija-n of Evil, The Boy director William Brent Bell takes us back to Esther’s beginnings, thirteen years later and with a fraction of the budget.
Perhaps “beginnings” is a bit of a stretch, to be fair: a more accurate title would be Orphan: Second (or Maybe Third?) Kill, as we’re introduced to little Leena in 2007 Estonia, two years prior to the first film’s events. She’s not Esther yet, but she has already offed her first host family, the one Vera learns about in the original; she’s holed away in the Saarne Institute, scarred from her restraints but still looking for a way out.
Through some derring-do and her signature flair for manipulation, she makes her escape and eventually finds her next marks: A wealthy Connecticut family searching for their missing daughter… Esther, with whom she (apparently) bears enough of a passing resemblance.
Passing herself off as the real Esther, she plies the same tricks she’d eventually pull on Vera and family — gaslight the mother (Julia Stiles’ Tricia), awkwardly seduce the father (Rossif Sutherland’s Allen), and perplex her new siblings (Matthew Finlan’s fencing-champ failson Gunnar). But Esther severely underestimates the dynamic she’s conned her way into, and before long she finds herself on the bloody back foot in ways she doesn’t expect.
Forced Perspective: The creepy child is a longtime horror staple, from Damien in The Omen to Demon Seed to Rosemary’s Baby, the list goes on; what made 2009’s Orphan feel so novel was that it played those beats to a tee and grounded them in the story of a parent suffering from grief and substance abuse.
Fuhrman’s steely-eyed, calculated turn was so watchable, effortlessly flitting between porcelain-doll precociousness (with those ribbons and her vintage American Girl Doll look) and cold, violent outbursts. First Kill understands that Fuhrman is the key to Esther and sees fit to return her to the role. The problem (or the point?) is that Fuhrman is 25 now, and First Kill asks Esther to be even younger than we first saw her.
The results, simply put, are bizarre: Fuhrman, her face now fully adult and her voice deeper, puts on the same pigtails and stockings as before, Bell using Fuhrman for closeups and some goofy forced-perspective shots against the adults in the room.
For shots from behind and far away, Esther’s filled in by appropriately-sized child body doubles. It’s not too far removed from what Valérie Lemercier pulled off in the early scenes of her Celine Dion sorta-biopic Aline: put a visibly older actor in the clothes and perspective of a child and just let the audience deal with the uncanniness.