Orphan: First Kill (2022)

William Brent Bell

Isabelle Fuhrman - Esther Albright / Leena Klammer 
Julia Stiles - Tricia Albright
Rossif Sutherland - Allen Albright
Hiro Kanagawa - Inspector Donnan
Matthew Finlan - Gunnar Albright
Samantha Walkes - Dr. Segar

Genre - Horror/Thriller

Running Time - 99 Minutes

After escaping from an Estonian psychiatric facility, Leena Klammer travels to America by impersonating Esther, the missing daughter of a wealthy family. But when her mask starts to slip, she is put against a mother who will protect her family from the murderous “child” at any cost.


Considering ORPHAN was released in theaters back in 2009, I was surprised that not only a new ORPHAN film was in production, but that it would also be a prequel with the same young actress now 13 years older. While I was curious enough to want to see what eventually would become ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, I also kept asking myself if a prequel to ORPHAN was even necessary. ORPHAN isn’t a horror film that a whole lot of people were talking about until the new film, even if it did do well enough at the box office. And considering how that film ended, it was obvious that the movie wasn’t meant to create a franchise for future installments. 

But then early reviews came out and the movie was being praised for some clever things within the narrative, while keeping expectations low to make it known that it wasn’t as good as the first film. Those reviews got me a bit more excited for the project, especially when it was decided to do a day-and-date release with Paramount Plus. While movies going straight to streaming used to be seen as a bad thing, there have been some good films that were exclusive to streaming platforms, making me hopeful that ORPHAN: FIRST KILL would join that group. So yes, this prequel is nowhere as good as the 2009 film. But considering the lengths the filmmakers went to in order to make this feel like a prequel, considering the main actress is now 13 years old playing an even younger version of herself, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL has no right being as good as it is.

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is one of those movies that’s hard to review, especially in terms of its narrative, due to a major twist midway though the film. Like the first film, the twist really changes how the film is presented. Before the twist, this prequel is pretty standard in what one would expect narratively. You see villainous Leena in a mental institution, causing a whole lot of trouble. Through stupidity by some of the supporting characters, she escapes and takes the identity of a little girl since that’s basically her gimmick.

Here, we learn where the Esther persona from the first film comes from. Apparently, Esther was a missing child who resembles Leena, making sure to get attention from the family who is looking for her in order to live a new life outside of the institution. While the family does seem happy to have her, some grow suspicious when Leena can’t remember certain things or people, or just behaves in a way that the real Esther wouldn’t previously. At this point, you’re just waiting for Leena to screw things up to a point where she has to defend herself and hurt this family she manipulated herself into, especially considering a local detective is trying to find clues as to how Esther was suddenly found so easily and her strange behavior to everyone around her.

It’s pretty common storytelling for a prequel like this. That is, until the twist midway through the movie that changes everything about ORPHAN: FIRST KILL. I usually see twists coming a mile away in these types of films, but this one threw me for a loop when it presented itself. While the first half was pretty pedestrian, the second half is where the film really takes off and gives itself a reason for existing to begin with. The drama increases. The tension and atmosphere get thicker. With this new information, you’re just waiting for the dam to burst. It’s done so well and the change in narrative is so bonkers, that you actually start to feel sympathy for a character who, before, wouldn’t or shouldn’t get any. It changes the complete dynamic of this sequel and I lived for it every second. While the conclusion is very predictable considering this is a prequel, the ride getting there is more fun than it has any right to be.

The direction by William Brent Bell isn’t as good or as dynamic as Jaume Collet-Serra’s from the original film. Bell’s vision isn’t as stylish, or as thrilling as Collet-Serra’s work on ORPHAN. The use of CGI and body doubles to de-age Isabelle Fuhrman mostly works, especially since the film is filtered and lit in a certain way to soften the CGI work here. There’s nothing really visually inventive about Bell’s work here, but he maintains a nice pace and lets the twists in the film’s narrative drive the film and set the different tones that actually benefit each act of ORPHAN: FIRST KILL. Is the film a horror movie? A B-movie? A comedy? Yes, it is. And it oddly works.

The actors are good, in particular both Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles in their respective roles. Despite being over a decade older, Fuhrman still captures the evil and manipulative essence of Esther as if she never left. Julia Stiles is probably even better, playing a distressed and complicated mother who is suspicious of Esther. While Fuhrman has a more restrained performance, Stiles really lets it all out and manages to have some of the best moments in the film. I thought the two actresses played really well against each other. Rossif Sutherland is pretty much a repeat of the father character in ORPHAN but less interesting, unfortunately. Matthew Finlan is more interesting as the teenage son, Gunnar. His layers peel off as the film runs on, giving Finlan some nice beats to play with. Not a bad cast, but Fuhrman and Stiles carry this film to levels far more entertaining than I was expecting.


After 13 years since the first film’s release, I was not expecting ORPHAN: FIRST KILL to be as good and as fun as it is. While this prequel starts out pretty pedestrian, the plot twist midway into the film changes the narrative completely, taking the audience on a tense filled and insane ride to its predictable ending. The twist turns a pretty standard horror film into B-movie gold that doesn’t fail to be entertaining. While the direction by William Brent Bell isn’t anything to talk about, despite doing what it needs to do visually, the use of de-aging CGI and body doubles for the Esther character are used well for the most part. And actresses Isabelle Fuhrman and Julia Stiles carry the film from beginning to end, giving multi-layered performances that get pretty interesting as the film rolls on. I’m really surprised how much I enjoyed ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, as this prequel has no right being as entertaining as it is. I wouldn’t be opposed to a future installment if this movie is successful enough.

3 Howls Outta 4
(7 out of 10)


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: The Happening (2008)


M. Night Shyamalan


Mark Wahlberg - Elliot Moore

Zooey Deschanel - Alma Moore

John Leguizamo - Julian

Ashlyn Sanchez - Jess

Betty Buckley - Mrs. Jones

Spencer Breslin - Josh

Robert Bailey Jr. - Jared

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Mystery/Drama/Science Fiction

Running Time - 91 Minutes


When a deadly airborne virus threatens to wipe out the northeastern United States, teacher Elliott Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Zooey Deschanel) flee from contaminated cities into the countryside in a fight to discover the truth. Is it terrorism, the accidental release of some toxic military bio weapon – or something even more sinister?


I’m not going to go too deep into M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 critical disaster THE HAPPENING, which is considered by many to be one of the worst films of the 21st century. You have all seen the memes. There are videos and articles written about why this film is looked down upon. The movie is not good for many reasons - which is disappointing considering the subject matter is quite interesting and could have led to a stronger and better film if executed right.

The central theme of THE HAPPENING is probably the best part of the film, even if Shyamalan has no clue how to tell it in a convincing way. Instead of making it a tense mystery as to why bad things are happening, Shyamalan wastes no time in telling us what’s going on - it’s the plants releasing toxins into the air that makes people lose all sense of themselves to the point of the quickest suicide possible. The wind is constantly a threat to the characters, making them fearful of even going outside in large groups. Characters talk to plants, both real or fake, to show that they’re not a threat to nature. Characters attempt to hypothesize in scientific ways as to what is triggering this phenomenon in the eastern part of the United States. There’s a social commentary being told here by Shyamalan, but he just doesn’t know how to make it resonate in a serious way.

The idea of airborne toxins feels more relevant now, considering COVID, Monkeypox and whatever new viruses are threatening our livelihood currently. Characters are afraid because they don’t understand, even if they think they do. Being in large groups only seems to quicken the threat. Not only are the plants trying to kill people, but so are other people who believe others are carrying the virus and will accidentally give it to them. It’s political. It’s social. This commentary that our destruction of nature has led to climate change and global warming is something that’s still debated about nowadays. These are topics that need to be addressed in a meaningful way, but you won’t find it anywhere in THE HAPPENING.

While I’m still on the positive spectrum, I will commend the cinematography. The picture does look really nice and there is some interesting style and shot scales going on here. And the first 15 to 20 minutes of the movie are pretty strong considering the downturn the film takes right after. We see people sticking hairpins into their necks, construction workers jumping off high areas, a domino effect of people taking a cop’s gun and shooting themselves, and so on. There’s even a cool lawn mower demise, as well as a pretty shocking shotgun dummy whammy that takes out two teenagers, which is pretty rare for a horror film. There’s some good stuff going on here. So what happened?

Apparently, Shyamalan wanted THE HAPPENING to be a homage to the B-movies of the 1950s, in particular 1958’s THE BLOB. The characters would be a little bit kooky, the threat would stem from a realistic place within the social culture at the time, and it would be a silly rollercoaster ride from start to end. The problem with this idea is that the commentary for THE HAPPENING is a pretty serious one that doesn’t seem like it could be from the realm of possibility. There are no giant gelatin monsters, giant atomic animals, or even aliens trying to conquer Earth. The idea of nature trying to kill the people who have been making it sick for centuries now is fairly serious. You also have a moment where two teenagers are brutally murdered due to fear and mistrust. How is anyone supposed to find that campy and fun?

It doesn’t help when the scenes involving characters getting poisoned enough to commit suicide are treated with tension and legit horror to the situation at hand. Otherwise, you have atrocious dialogue that no human being would ever say to others, lousy acting from a capable cast, and just poor pacing by a director who ought to know better. The tone is all over the place and it brings down the movie. Bad movies like TROLL 2 or 2003’s THE ROOM embrace their horribleness, knowing exactly what their tone is, which makes those films fun to watch. Shyamalan seems conflicted between his alleged idea for THE HAPPENING and what the studio possibly wants. It’s a no-win situation here.

Shyamalan is obviously a talented filmmaker. He proved it in THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE and mostly in SIGNS and THE VILLAGE as well. But either his ego was too big at this point, or he forgot to tell interesting stories, because THE HAPPENING continued the major downturn after THE LADY IN THE WATER. For a man known for his twists, there aren’t any here. He gives us all the answers right away, taking away all tension and suspense before anyone can settle in. The pacing is all over the pace, making you more bored than anything at times.

And probably his worst crime - his direction of a capable cast who have done better work before or since. Actors don’t react naturally. They’re required to utter inane dialogue that’s unintentionally funny because it never feels realistic at all. Most of the film is just people walking around and talking about uninteresting things without much momentum. Again, there’s a good movie somewhere within THE HAPPENING but Shyamalan has no idea how to bring that forth. It’s even sadder when you realize that his work would only get worse [THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH] until he would finally hit the jackpot with 2017’s SPLIT.

Speaking of the actors, most of them regret being in THE HAPPENING because they know how atrocious they look here. Mark Wahlberg isn’t the greatest actor or anything, but he’s done much better work. At least he tries here in the role of science teacher Elliot, only because it seems like he does care. But Shyamalan directs him to recite lines and react like an 8-year-old child, which provides an earnest and naive performance that feels forcibly immature. Zooey Deschanel is truly baffling as Alma. All she does really is stare like a deer in headlights for 90 percent of the movie, while reacting to dialogue and situations in a clueless and stoic way for the other 10. Considering Wahlberg and Deschanel are playing a married couple, Wahlberg has more chemistry with a plastic plant than with his fellow co-star. John Leguizamo wants to give a serious performance, but is put in situations where even Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t salvage. Ashlyn Sanchez adds nothing, feeling more like a background extra than a child star in her own movie. Betty Buckley has unintentionally hilarious moments as a paranoid woman who keeps thinking the protagonists will break or steal her stuff. And Spencer Breslin might give the most memorable performance as a man obsessed with hot dogs [probably the best character moment of the movie]. I hope the numbers on those paychecks were satisfactory.


One of the most disappointing films of the 21st century, THE HAPPENING is a film that feels more relevant now due to its interesting commentary. But because of M. Night Shyamalan’s lack of knowing how to tell his story visually and on paper, there’s not a whole lot “happening” in this misfire of a movie. Shyamalan’s attempt at making a B-movie akin to the 1950s falls flat due to an inconsistency in tone, giving away all the answers within the first 30 minutes, and making the film feel more dull than it ought to. The cast just look like fools on screen, barely reacting to things or reciting unconvincing dialogue that comes across as more unintentionally funny than serious. It’s sad when Mark Wahlberg has more chemistry with a plastic plant than his on-screen wife Zooey Deschanel. The film is even more disappointing considering the idea of plants releasing an airborne toxin that hurts people feels way too close to home due to recent debates on climate change and the devastation of COVID. If taken seriously, this commentary could make a movie that’s remembered for all the right reasons. But for whatever reason, Shyamalan was not up for the task, instead making the most memorable thing about the film being about the quality of hot dogs. THE HAPPENING is not the worst film of the last 20-plus years, nor is it even the worst film in Shyamalan’s filmography. But it’s definitely a film that should have been better than it is considering the man is capable of making a thrilling and serious movie that audiences are fond of.


1 Howl Outta 4


Prey (2022)


Dan Trachtenberg 


Amber Midthunder - Naru

Dakota Beavers - Taabe

Dane DiLiegro - The Predator

Michelle Thrush - Aruka

Stormee Kipp - Wasape

Julian Black Antelope - Chief Kehetu

Bennett Taylor - Raphael Adolini

Genre - Science Fiction/Horror/Action/Thriller/Aliens

Running Time - 100 Minutes


On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled Comanche warrior, sets out to protect her people when an unknown danger threatens them. But the prey she’s stalking turns out to be a highly evolved alien Predator with a technically advanced arsenal.


Despite having a huge fanbase, the Predator character hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to its big screen adventures. The 1987 original is still a peak action-thriller, with great one-liners and action sequences that have continued to inspire many action films today. And while I love 1990’s PREDATOR 2 [more people should], the rest of the series [including the 2 ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies] have struggled in quality due to protagonists not being as interesting or as memorable as the badass alien antagonist that continues to carry this series.

2018’s THE PREDATOR could have been a return to form, but it just ended up being a mixed bag due to actors having to play offbeat and silly characters to compensate for a messy script that should have been better considering director Shane Black was in the first [and still best] film. Not like 20th Century Fox was concerned anyway, considering they were about to be bought out by Disney in 2019, making any future PREDATOR movies their problem. But Disney sees money in milking a franchise, knowing PREDATOR has a huge fan base and needs a narrative overhaul. 

With the new film being titled PREY, Disney [under the new 20th Century Studios banner] hired Dan Trachtenberg - the man who directed the best CLOVERFIELD sequel so far, 2016’s 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. With Trachtenberg wanting to do a prequel of PREDATOR that shows when the alien first landed on Earth in the 1700s to do battle with a tribe of Comache warriors, there was now hope and some promise for this franchise to gain its footing again. Trachtenberg realized the strength of the first PREDATOR is how basic it really is. It’s just an alien hunting down people, and vice-versa. No need for characters trying to be cool, other sci-fi characters to bring mainstream attention, or gimmicks. Trachtenberg just wanted the Predator to face a badass protagonist that could keep up with it. The PREDATOR franchise has always been a series about survival against a being that’s more technologically advanced. And with the film taking place in the 1700s against Native Americans, that makes for a really interesting idea.

Despite being dumped on Hulu for whatever reason [this film should have had a limited theatrical run at least], there’s nothing to fear about the quality of PREY. Considering the mixed results of any Predator movie after the second one, PREY is a breath of fresh air and the first film since 1990 to understand the series’ strengths. It’s a film that understands that while the villain is the main attraction, it never lets the Predator drive the movie as the main focus. Instead, it lets the Comache tribe [especially main character Naru] take control of the narrative - building character development and relationships between the tribe members, making the audience see right away that they’re outmatched by this alien creature until one of them plays defense and understands its tricks to use against it. It’s hunter versus hunter, which strengthens the film’s quality and watchability as a whole.

Some fans have been criticizing PREY as a “woke” project due to the film’s female protagonist, Naru, being able to keep up with the Predator and outsmart it throughout the movie. But I never saw the movie that way. Yes, it does focus on female empowerment and the misogyny of a Native American tribe towards the women of the group. Naru wants to be a hunter like her brother Taabe, but is urged by everyone around her to be an herbal doctor who has to treat the injured and sick after their hunts. But Naru, along with her dog Sarii, want to prove they can be just as good of hunters as the men. Naru has survival instincts, like being a great tracker, knowing when to fight and when to play defense, and observing the world around her to learn things about her foes that she could use against them. Naru isn’t a forced female badass that’s being written for some kind of agenda. This is her world and her life, learning everything she can to prove to her doubters that she can do it and survive. She’s not a character built to defeat a Predator. But she’s a character written intelligently to let us know that she has what it takes to defend herself and outsmart him however she can to survive this battle to save herself and her tribe. Naru is a character who is capable because of how she was raised, not because the filmmakers decided that the franchise needed a Sarah Connor type.

The supporting characters also have arcs that give them a bit of depth. Naru’s brother Taabe is the chosen one of the tribe, seen as the leader of the young hunters and treated like royalty in spite of Naru wanting to be seen as good as him. While Taabe could have been the stereotypical jerk of a brother who puts Naru down with an air of superiority, he actually roots for his sister to improve on her skills so she can be treated with as much respect as he is. Taabe even acknowledges that when he’s seen as a hero for certain actions, it’s Naru who had the right idea and instincts that only led to him finishing what she started. It’s a nice sibling dynamic between the two, as they have a mutual respect for the other and try to take down the Predator and a group of French fur traders. Speaking of the fur traders, they come across as your typical prejudiced colonizers who treat others that don’t look or act like them as if they’re savages, even though they’re skinning animals and threatening to murder and rape people. But one of them, Raphael, had a previous encounter with a Predator and wanted Naru’s help in learning how to defeat it. Apparently this encounter took place in a series of comic books back in the 90s, but it would be nice to have learned more about it and how much Raphael knew about the alien before encountering the Comache tribe about it. And I can’t forget about Sarii, who is as much of an important character than any of the humans. This dog is super loyal to Naru, helping her fight against foes or distracting threats so she can get an upper hand on them. I thought Sarii was a great asset to PREY and added a lot to Naru’s development and evolution. 

If I did have any major issues with PREY, it’s some of the dialogue. Now, I watched PREY with the Comache Dub, which is the way Trachtenberg wants audiences to watch the movie. It’s pretty much the native language with English subtitles, which I’m happy for considering many complaints were about how the actors spoke way too modern for a period movie. Even so, the translations share the same problem at times, with characters talking to each other as if they would in 2022 than they probably would in 1719. It kind of threw me off at times, but it doesn’t hurt the film a whole lot. It’s just something to be mindful of if Trachtenberg attempts another Predator period film down the line. 

Trachtenberg’s direction and Jeff Cutter’s cinematography give PREY a nice visual boost, giving the film a beautiful and atmospheric look that’s been kind of missing in several of the PREDATOR films. While some of the CGI is a bit wonky at times, especially when it involves animals encountering other actors or the Predator itself, Trachtenberg does his best to shoot these moments in a way that it doesn’t totally bring the film down. The Predator effects are well handled though, with Trachtenberg using the antagonist in a similar way that the first PREDATOR did. The alien is invisible or cloaked for much of the film, creating a level of tension and suspense this series has surely needed for a while. In fact, a lot of the hunting scenes do well in keeping one’s interest, making you look around the screen to see if you can catch the Predator lurking in the background. The action scenes are also handled well, making the Predator look like a total badass as he overpowers many of its victims until Naru figures out its weaknesses. Trachtenberg seems all in with this franchise going forward, so I’m hoping he continues making more sequels/prequels because it’s a great film visually for the most part.

All the actors are very good, considering some of the dialogue doesn’t really fit the time period PREY is supposed to take place in. The two standouts are Dakota Beavers as Taabe, surprising me how good he is considering he was working at a TJ Maxx before getting the role. I think he’s one to look out for in the future because he brought a likability and cool factor to Taabe. And Amber Midthunder, probably best known for her role in the underappreciated show Legion, is amazing as Naru. She carries the film from beginning to end, fleshing out a heroine that we can all root for. She’s so expressive in her face and tells a lot about her story through her body language. Midthunder’s acting makes her character earn her place as a dangerous opponent for the Predator, carrying a quiet strength that makes me hope to see more of in future projects.


While PREY isn’t the best PREDATOR film like some have claimed, the film is still in the Top 3 within the franchise, proving that this series and its main character still have a lot of life in them. Amber Midthunder carries the film with a strong performance as Naru, proving to be a formidable force due to a believable story arc and convincing facial expressions and body language to convey an intelligent threat the Predator didn’t see coming. The narrative works since it goes “back to basics” in terms of what makes this series work - the joy of the hunt and developed characters we can root for. Dan Trachtenberg adds another well-crafted sequel to his resume - bringing atmosphere, tension and suspense that has been missing from the last few installments. Yes, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy at times. And I wish the dialogue was more of its period rather than making characters sound like they’re cosplaying as Comache hunters in 2022. Speaking of, the Comache Dub is the way to go with PREY. I couldn’t imagine how this would play out in English considering some of the dialogue. But overall, a return-to-form for a franchise that needed a win badly for so long now. 


3 Howls Outta 4

(8 out of 10)

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