“The Orphan: First Murder”, the unexpected prequel | The Stimulus

In 2009, the director Jaume Collet-Serra created with “The Orphan” a disturbing horror fable that immediately became a discreet classic. The story of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a frail-looking abandoned girl who turns out to be a grown woman and also a ruthless killer, terrified and shocked the audience. Not only because of her unusual premise, but also because of the fact that she linked the notion of evil to something much more urgent than the mere idea of ​​a hoax. Can the terrifying go unnoticed?

The question was not fully answered in the film. In fact, much of the plot bases its success on allowing the viewer to analyze the possibility from various points of view. Could something similar happen? The question was repeated in fan forums and later, in the inevitable shadow of a twisted narrative that gained value with the decade. What caused a nefarious and wicked creature to be able to manipulate an entire family?

However, the film’s layers of disgusting discomfort went much further. Could a game of violence and sexual tension as overwhelming as it is dehumanizing happen to anyone? One of the high points of the script is not providing a simple explanation -perhaps none- to the possibility. So Esther, with her pale face and furious expression on her face, became the epitome of a new kind of terror.

An unexplained scenario

William Brent Bell’s “The Orphan: First Murder” makes two things clear from the start. One is that what makes Esther (again played by Fuhrman) a ruthless and ruthless killer is not the story she is carrying. At the other extreme, that the origin of the character’s behavior is disturbing in its simplicity: she wants to kill. She does it because she harbors an adult drive for violent gratification. Nothing more.

This is something that the Albrights will discover very soon, the family that will now have to deal with the horror that the film suggests. The unhappiness that torments its members will be the way in which Esther will be able to attack them. A plot of sexual jealousy, violence and fear that will end in a bloody scene.

It might seem that it is another version of the first and successful production, but in reality it is something deeper. “The Orphan: First Murder” explores Esther as a psychopath who learned her power was angry recklessness. Without feelings, with no other perspective than to become a predator with the face of a girl, the character is more fearsome than ever.

Much more so when Isabelle Fuhrman reprises the role she played at age eleven and the mise-en-scène provides a careful tone of continuity. Oddly enough, the film doesn’t use digital effects, but rather thoughtful sets of cameras to create its atmosphere. Again Esther is eleven years old and a terrifying creature beneath the cloak of her innocence.

Under a mask of naivety

Unlike so many other plots that tell the central stories of violent characters, the film avoids the temptation to justify or humanize. On the contrary, it focuses on the possibility that the evil in Esther is a natural fact. It might seem like a hackneyed premise if David Coggeshall’s script were less adept at showing what the psychology of the story holds. One, based on the possibility that everything that was narrated in the first film is only the direct consequence of the first. A murderer with a method needs a place to rehearse his mistakes and that is precisely what the prequel delves into.

“The Orphan: First Murder” goes through all the points that its predecessor hinted at. Which makes it clear that her character’s behavior is the result of more than just a chance incident with bloody consequences. An essential element to understand why the production differs from so many others of its kind. This is not the exploration of Esther’s sufferings, although they are mentioned, nor of the circumstances that surrounded her, of her parents who abandoned her or of her critical point that transformed her into a soulless creature.

Instead, the story makes smart decisions about the context surrounding a criminal. How did Esther devise a macabre trick that fooled an entire family? The answer is obvious: she had already done it before. But the assassin shown in the 2022 film is much more clumsy at manipulation than she will be in the future. The argument takes advantage of the idea of ​​an evil personality in the making to sustain the dense complexity that defines it.

A quest for the center of horror

The director takes the disturbing idea of ​​the first film and goes back to understand, from a distance, the evolution of Esther. That implies that the film gives some explanations of context about it. But its effectiveness is not based on that. On the contrary, the conflict is more focused on illustrating the fact that she built herself, that the fearsome assassin capable of destroying a family in a stealthy and perfidious way, is the result of her determination to survive.

Does that mean that Esther’s evil power stems from abandonment or pain? “The Orphan: First Murder” does not fall into pity to explore her character. It is actually a clever reflection on cruelty turned into a well-measured weapon. Just as she uses her own hypopituitarism to play on the innocence of others, the character manipulates the weakness of others in her favor.

the orphan

It’s a sinister exchange that turns the character into a powerful figure hiding under a false identity. But the film also makes a well-constructed journey about fear, domination and, in the end, inner darkness as a form of power.

esther will return

As the narrative progresses, it is clear that the director does not want the mystery to be diluted. So he avoids reiterating the obvious – how dangerous Esther is – and focuses on the possibility of spontaneous cruelty. In the decisions he will make, the mistakes he will make and in the end, in his unlikely triumph. The fact that the actress returns to interpret her character allows the plot to make caveats and conscious decisions. The story went back in time, but at its core, it’s the same dilemma: what made Esther what she is?

From the escape from the Estonian psychiatric facility mentioned in the first film, to a new family facing an unexpected horror, “The Orphan: First Murder” takes considerable risk by doubling down on the formula that made the original production famous. But the premise, which demonstrated a grotesque duality in the 2009 film, is much more complex in its new version. The murderer is shown as a mystery that unravels little by little in dimensions of the perverse that surprise when they complete each other.

However, the script shows her when she could still feel fear, a point that differentiates her from her future version. A layer of interest to understand that her behavior -badness- of her is one of the many facets of her. She cracks into a mask that make her increasingly fearsome and brutal. Lastly, an open door to what she will come after, when she knows all that she is capable of achieving. Esther will return and the result of that return is already part of the history of cinema.


“The Orphan: First Murder”, the unexpected prequel | The Stimulus