WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for ORPHAN, some minor spoilers for ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, and mentions of sexual abuse.

(Paramount+/VOD) ORPHAN: FIRST KILL contains one of the most intense hard-left turns I’ve seen in a horror franchise. Esther was clearly the villain in the first film — which was certainly set up as a franchise due to her signature look: choker and cuffs and Victorian wear and all, as well as her history — but…

Esther pivots hard from being a malicious thirty-something man-eater in the body of a pre-teen to being a hard-scrapple Dickensian survivor. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL becomes a very complicated tale of prioritizing manipulation while also skewering it.

The story takes place several years prior to ORPHAN: artist Alan (Rossif Sutherland) and wife Tricia (the amazing Julia Styles) believe they’ve found their long-lost daughter, Esther, who is actually Leena/Esther in ORPHAN (Isabelle Fuhrman, who is ten years older, but expected to play even younger than she was in the first film) in disguise. They take ‘Esther’ into their home, but Tricia and teen son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) quickly see right through her deceit, and they start commanding her like a puppet; Tricia to keep her husband happy, and Gunnar simply because he can.

What follows is a revenge tale that can be read as posited towards emotionally and sexually abused youths, despite the fact that Esther is well-into adulthood. At this point, she still doesn’t know how to fully manipulate people and, thus, people manipulate her.

That extrapolation may sound odd, given how most critics have glibly stated that ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is bonkers crazy and fully leans into being fun and, consequently, lacking depth. However, like the best horror films, I feel like it was born from a place of hurt and it resonates, even if it was unintentionally brazen.

I’ll note that I don’t love how all of Esther’s idiosyncratic affectations seem to be collected via this first ‘father’. The film leans hard on the black light artwork, and I honestly wished that Esther had come up with that idea on her own, that it had it not been wormed into her head by someone else.

Nonetheless, this is a singular work of domestic horror that also manages to make the most of a pre-existing film.


This is my 500th recommendation via this site. I told myself I’d stop after a year, then kept mindlessly going, then said: “Okay, 500, that’s a good number.” I’m going to see the month out with horror recs, then go on hiatus for NaNoWriMo. I doubt I’ll ever quit this site, but updates will probably be few-and-far between. Best if you have an RSS reader!