Orphan: First Kill, currently streaming on Paramount+ and showing in theaters, takes the Bad Seed premise we have seen before and adds another layer of nastiness. The prequel set two years before the first movie’s events gave us more of Esther’s backstory, including her time in a mental health hospital and with her first family. It has been twelve years since we last saw the child-like psychopath. Esther, played so well by Isabelle Fuhrman, who is now twenty-five years old, reprises her role with clever camera work, a young body double, and minimal makeup.
In Orphan, Esther, a seemingly sweet child, is adopted by Vera Farmiga’s Kate and her family after her first family’s tragic death. The shocking twist ending of the original is that Esther was an adult with hyperpituitarism. The condition caused her body to remain youthful despite her age. While this is an actual condition, it rarely manifests in this exact way. Usually, people with it suffer from other symptoms, including appearance-altering conditions that would not make what Esther pulls off possible. Esther’s end game was to seduce her adoptive father, John(Peter Sarsgaard), and kill the rest of the family. Of course, she succeeds in everything but the seduction part.
We first meet Esther, or Leena, which is her real name, in a hospital where she has been locked up for society’s protection. She is a danger to the outside world, and her doctor knows she is a brilliant manipulator and wildly violent. After inevitably escaping, she locates a missing child that roughly matches her description and supposed age. The girl, Esther Albright, was reported missing four years ago by her parents and was never found. She then sits on a park swing and waits until a policeman finds her. She tells him she is the missing child and concocts a story about being taken to Russia, which explains(kind of) her accent. The Albrights seem thrilled to see her, but her mom Tricia(Julia Stiles) and brother Gunnar(Matthew Finlan of Brazen and The Terror) are less enthusiastic.
The true story that inspired both films
Both Orphan and Orphan: First Kill was inspired by the unbelievable true story of Barbora Skrlova. The thirty-three-year-old Czech woman was living as a thirteen-year-old schoolboy in Norway. She lived under the name Adam and had fooled police, teachers, and friends for four months before she fled the children’s home she lived in and launched a nationwide search for Adam. Barbora was finally apprehended and deported to Czechoslovakia.
She was wanted as a witness to child abuse stemming from yet another ruse. She posed as a thirteen-year-old girl named Anika, who was adopted by Klara Mauerova and cared for by Klara and her sister Katerina. The two women were suspected of abusing Klara’s two biological sons when a neighbor’s baby monitor camera picked up a signal from Mauerova’s house. The neighbor saw two young boys caged, naked, tortured, and malnourished. Skrlova posing as Anika, was wanted as a witness to those crimes.
She told police the sisters abused the boys, and she was powerless to save them. This was not true, however. The highly manipulative Skrlova had used the sister’s mental illness against them and wove a web of cult and religious paranoia. Skrlova also set the boys up to be punished for things she did. As the true story finally began to be revealed, she went with members of a cult called Grail Movement to Denmark and found herself later in Norway, where she pretended to be Adam.
She was not convicted of identity theft charges, but she was convicted of her role in the boy’s abuse. Skrlova and Katerina tricked Klara into thinking Skrlova was a sickly child needing bizarre medical treatments. These early deceptions were strange but not as grotesque as what later happened. Skrlova, believed to be the daughter and sister of the Grail Movement cult leaders, convinced Klara to abuse her sons. The abuse is graphic and horrendous and includes things like cannibalism, all for the sake of a made-up religion.
The ending of Orphan: First Kill
Esther isn’t as good at her con as she thought, and little details slip her up. Additionally, her mother and brother constantly look at her suspiciously. When a detective(Hiro Kanagawa) takes DNA evidence from the Albrights, Esther follows him home and stabs him. Tricia catches her in the act. In a surprise move, Tricia shoots the detective dead and then tells Esther she knows everything is a lie. Esther has accidentally stumbled into a family filled with people just as evil as she is. Gunnar killed his sister four years ago when the two siblings were arguing. We don’t know if it was an accident or purposeful, but Tricia wasn’t willing to take any chances with her remaining child. However, Gunnar has some affluenza issues and seems entitled, selfish, and cruel.
Tricia helped Gunnar cover up the body and reported her daughter missing years ago. She and Gunnar had been lying about it since then. Her husband Allen(Rossif Sutherland) was devastated by his daughter’s disappearance and knew nothing about her death. He is thrilled to have his child back and chooses to overlook concerning clues like her newfound talents, memory loss, and weird accent.
Tricia makes a deal with Esther that she will continue to play the part to preserve the family image and protect Allen. The plan works well for a time, but Esther wants Allen for herself and quickly grows tired of playing a role. Allen and Esther/Leena bond over art, and as is her way, she falls in love with him. Tricia is nobody’s victim and will not make way for Esther to take her husband. The trio becomes locked in a battle. Esther tries to push Gunnar and Tricia in front of a train but fails. She drives away in Tricia’s car, but a local police officer catches her and returns her home. Tricia then tries unsuccessfully to poison Esther. When that doesn’t work, Tricia orders Gunnar to kill her, and a whole lot of blood is shed.
The house catches fire, and Gunnar is fatally stabbed with his fencing saber. Esther climbs to the roof with Tricia in pursuit, and both women find themselves dangling from the gutter. Allen comes home and offers a hand to both. Tricia tries to warn him about Esther, but he doesn’t understand until too late. Tricia falls to her death, and Allen grabs Esther’s face. His grip dislodges her fake teeth, and he realizes what Tricia had been trying to tell him. Esther pushes him off the roof to his death, leaving her to be rescued. Orphan: First Kill ends as the original began, with Esther orphaned and ready to be adopted by Kate and John. The nuns know nothing about Leena’s real past or what actually happened to the Albrights. Leena has completely become Esther.
Orphan is a guilty pleasure that had a great twist no one saw coming. The reveal was done well and was so shocking you couldn’t help but be surprised. Twelve years later, there are no big twists to unveil, but Orphan: First Kill is just as entertaining because we never expected to see Esther go toe to toe with someone just as diabolical. Tricia is a nightmare of a parent whose entire white privilege tirade late in the film feels like it was ripped from some perverse MAGA rally. She is the worst kind of parent, and instead of getting her surviving child professional help, she continued to coddle him.
Gunnar is an abuser, rapist, or Patrick Bateman in the making, and she doesn’t care. While the original was all about Esther, this prequel intended as her origin story is really about the Albrights. It seems poetic somehow that Esther stole their identity. Their wealth and power didn’t protect them from her any more than the pilgrims on the Mayflower Tricia so proudly identifies with were protected from disease and starvation. While I know Esther is a killer, and Allen was just a grieving dope. I have to admit to laughing when Gunnar and Tricia got theirs. Karma’s a bitch.
Orphan: First Kill is available to stream on Paramount+ or in theaters now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.