If 9-year-old Esther driving an SUV while putting on lipstick, smoking a cigarette, and jamming to Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” with the police in pursuit, is not worth the price of admission, sadly, there’s no hope for cinema. Well OK, maybe I’m exaggerating. “Orphan: First Kill” is the unexpected prequel to Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 psychological thriller that once again features Isabelle Fuhrman in the title role as the psychotic 30-year-old Estonian woman who suffers from a developmental condition that stunts her growth giving her the ability to pass as a child. Here she’s paired with another American family but before you can say “rehash,” Julia Stiles isn’t about to let that happen on her watch.

In the original 2009 film, Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard played the adoptive parents of 9-year-old Esther (Fuhrman) an orphan from Eastern Europe who began terrorizing her new family. The film’s twist was that Esther was not a child, but a 33-year-old murdering psychopath named Leena who suffered from a hormonal disorder that caused proportional dwarfism. “Orphan” ended with a 99% probability that left out any chance of a sequel. Hey, it’s Hollywood there’s also that 1% chance that anything is possible.

13 years later Esther returns in the form of a prequel directed by William Brent Bell (“The Boy” and “Brahms: The Boy II”) with Isabelle Fuhrman back to reprise her lead role. She was 10 when she first played the character and now at 25, thanks to Fuhrman’s youthful appearance, she’s still convincing as Esther/Leena thanks to a bit of trickery by Bell who keeps the camera zoomed in on her face. For the full body shots, child actors Kennedy Irwin and Sadie Lee were brought in to double for Fuhrman, however, most of the time the transitions between full body and closeups are jarring which adds to the film’s campy fun. I’m reminded of James Wan’s absurd yet brilliant “Malignant.”

“Orphan: First Kill” is an origins story as it depicts how Leena took on the personality of Esther and how she nestled her way to America settling in with the Albright family. As in the 2009 film, mom wears the pants in the family. Julia Stiles as mom Tricia takes it up a few notches past Farmiga’s steamroller performance while Rossif Sutherland’s docile dad Allen shadows Sarsgaard’s “Team Esther” mindset.

Without revealing too much (why spoil the fun?!) Bell and cowriter David Coggeshall come close to outdoing the twist of the first film and it’s brilliant. Stiles chews the scenery in the best face-off since “Freddy vs. Jason” — Ok, maybe I exaggerated again — as Tricia takes on Esther with the help of bratty teen son Gunner (Matthew Finlan) who keeps getting the short end of the stick while resembling an evil Timothée Chalamet.

The shock in “Orphan” was so effective because Fuhrman was only 10 and we had to believe that she was a 33-year-old woman. At 23, the actor is closer to her character’s true age, yet you must ask yourself, “Could she pass for a 9-year-old?” In this social media age where kids are in a rush to resemble adults, the answer is “Yes”. Esther lives on TikTok.

You won’t find as many scares as in Collet-Serra’s original thriller, they have been replaced by campy fun and a spark plug performance by Stiles who gives Fuhrman a run for her money.

(3 stars)

Now showing in select theaters and streaming on Paramount Plus

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.