ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)
Prequel is an origin story of sorts for Isabelle Fuhrman’s homicidal Esther character from the film Orphan.
The character is introduced as the psychotic Leena, a full-grown woman in her thirties who suffers from a condition that stopped her growth when she was around ten years old. Leena escapes from the institute she’s imprisoned in and takes the identity of Esther Albright, a little girl who disappeared four years ago. Desperate to have her back, the Albrights don’t see past the deception. The homicidal woman settles in with her new family and continues her murderous ways, especially when a nosey detective (Hiro Kanagawa) threatens her scheme.
Flick is directed by William Brent Bell from a script by David Coggeshall, which is based on a story by
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Alex Mace. It’s a ho-hum sequel with routine blood, gore and violence, along with some predictable situations and sub-plots. It is hard to believe from the get-go that the family would be completely fooled by a total stranger who is not their own daughter, even after four years and a striking (convenient) resemblance. There is a twist about half-way through which explains this for some characters, but it comes across as more ludicrous than shocking, and takes the film into silly territory as Esther gets the tables turned on her somewhat. It all leads to a predictable and bloody conclusion, which has no suspense as, since this is a prequel, we know exactly where this ends up. First Kill is a mediocre follow-up trying desperately to turn a one-shot flick into a franchise and if you are a fan of the first movie, which was entertaining, you might get some mileage out of this one.
Jeff and Maggie Vahn (Rupert Friend and Mamie Gummer) are two comic book creators who are separated and in the middle of a messy divorce, that includes a custody battle for their daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw). Jeff is out of work and when Maggie is killed in a hit and run, he has to find a job fast to keep Jenny from her rich, custody seeking grandfather (Brian Cox). Just as things start to turn around for Jeff, it begins to seem like a dark entity might be stalking he and his daughter…a spirit that might be his angry, dead, ex-wife.
Film is by-the-numbers directed by William Brent Bell (Wer, The Boy), from a script by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun, and is far more run-of-the-mill family drama than supernatural horror. Bell does create a few spooky moments and has a nice visual eye, but the spooky scenes are very few and far between, till the climax, as we watch Jeff try to turn into an adult to prove he is capable of taking care of Jenny. Aside from a few effective but briefly seen specters, and a few nightmare scenes, there is nothing really all that scary here. When spooky stuff does happen, it is very cliché, such as jittery moving phantoms whose bones click and creak with each articulation and a child blamed for a ghost’s destructive hi-jinx. The end reveal is also no real surprise either and gives the feeling of being an afterthought. The cast are OK, with only little Violet McGraw and veteran Brian Cox really showing some screen presence, and Cam star Madeline Brewer appearing as the babysitter with feelings for Jeff, Samantha. Overall, the potential Bell showed in his first few flicks seems to have settled into a sadly familiar routine with his recent studio films, which, including this one, are kind of forgettable.
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Wer is a fascinating and sometimes gruesomely intense twist on the werewolf film from The Devil Inside’s William Brent Bell. The film takes place in France where a vacationing American family is savagely attacked by what appears to be a large animal. The sole survivor (Stephanie Lemelin), though, describes a very large hairy man as the culprit. Police quickly arrest local resident Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) as the suspect. Gwynek suffers from Porphyria, a rare disease that can cause excessive body hair and other symptoms which are believed to have inspired the legends of werewolves and vampires. Enter human rights lawyer Katherine Moore (A.J.Cook) who plans to prove that Talan is just being used as a scapegoat. As her team (Vik Sahay and Simon Quaterman) investigates the case, they not only find a conspiracy to want to see Talan convicted, but a more shocking possibility there may be some truth to the ancient legends after all.
I really enjoyed this movie. Not only does director and co-writer…along with Matthew Peterman…William Brent Bell deliver a really fresh take on the traditional werewolf movie, but a suspenseful thriller and a gruesomely bloody horror film, too. The script is smart and keeps us guessing till the reveal about halfway through and then turns up the gruesome action once the film switches gears and becomes a more traditional monster movie…though one we aren’t really expecting. The use of the rare Porphyria as it’s focus and the implication that it has effects we are not aware of, is very cleverly handled and helps make this tale of lycanthropy more unique. There are also some really intense action sequences with some delightfully gruesome gore to satisfy the need for some more traditional elements. The film only stumbles just slightly when another character contracts the disease from a bite and there is an over-the-top battle royal between the two infected. It’s fun, but seems just a little out of place when compared to the rest of the film…on the other hand, who doesn’t like a good monster fight! Overall, though, the flick combines the horror and crime investigation elements nicely with a touch of conspiracy thriller thrown in. On a production level, the gore FX are good for the most part, though there is a lot of CGI which doesn’t look completely convincing and there are some really effective FX to illustrate the infected’s strengths and abilities.
The cast are all convincing. A.J. Cook is sexy and strong as Katherine. She truly believes in Talan’s innocence and when things start to spiral out of control, she conveys the woman’s shock and regret very well. O’Connor gives his Talan a humble sadness that makes you want to believe his innocence and also cuts an imposing figure that makes you have doubts. Vik Sahay is good as the cocky and arrogant Eric, as is Quaterman as animal specialist and Katherine’s former flame, Gavin. Rounding out is Sebastian Roché as Klaus Pistor, a hard nosed cop who may have ulterior motives to believe Gwynek’s guilt.
Wer is a really inventive and very intense horror flick. It breathes some new life into the time honored werewolf sub-genre and was well-directed from a cleverly written script. It’s got a pace that moves quickly, but not too fast and keeps us guessing till it’s ready to spatter the screen with some impressively bloody action. A really enjoyable flick that gets far too little attention than it deserves.
3 and 1/2 full moons.