The 2009 horror film Orphan relied on a truly daft dramatic conceit, one that depended entirely on the appearance and eerie maturity of then 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman as the parentless child of the title, named Esther for much of the film. But Fuhrman’s uncanny performance, supported by similarly beyond-call-of-duty turns from Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard and adept genre management from director Jaume Collet-Serra, somehow turned a mixed bag into a bizarrely elegant reticule of some distinction.
This prequel, once again starring Fuhrman as Esther, isn’t nearly as classy or clever, although it has its own wackadoodle twist, two-thirds in. Even more problematic, if you saw the first film, is that Fuhrman is now over a decade older, which makes trying to pass her off as a nine-year-old even harder, although a certain amount of VFX jiggery-pokery and the use of stunt doubles for some shots has been done to adjust proportions. But if any digital work went into de-ageing the actor’s face, it wasn’t enough: nasolabial folds and periorbital regions don’t lie. This makes a nonsense of the plot, which kicks off when the littlest sociopath reinvents herself to get scooped up by Julia Stiles and Rossif Sutherland as an American upper-middle class couple who believe she is their lost child. While the twist accounts for some of the gullibility in the adult world, it’s a long stretch.
The most disappointing thing about the film is that it has none of the spark or originality of the first one and just parasitically drains its source material, incorporating details like the creepy black-light drawings and the borderline paedophilic subtext without adding anything substantial. Even the bland attempt to reprise the voyeuristic sex scene from the original film – a truly erotic moment with Farmiga and Sarsgaard humping against a kitchen island – is a poor substitute. Fans deserve better servicing than this.
• Orphan: First Kill is released on 19 August in cinemas.