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GROWING PAINS: A Spoiler-Filled Review of ‘Orphan: First Kill’ 

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Isabelle Fuhrman’s return to the role of Esther is full of curveballs and whiplashes of horror fun.

In my first Orphan review, I asked if anybody had asked for this film to happen. Was it worth it? Did this movie need to be made?

Yes. Emphatically, yes.

I had a lot of preconceived notions and thoughts about how this movie would be a snooze-worthy rehash of Jaume Collet-Seura’s work. Still, I am happy to eat my humble pie and say that entering the third act of this film, I was COMPLETELY and UTTERLY incorrect. This movie has a rough start, but it is very, VERY good, and has a twist I didn’t see coming at all.

My spoiler-free review: it’s unreasonably good for a sequel to a 13-year-old movie; not perfect, but pretty great if you’re not looking for straight-laced, hair-raising horror. If you liked the first one a lot, you’ll probably like this. Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the first because it will kill everything fun about the original. Alright, everybody cleared out? Good, onto the

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SPOILERS AHEAD

Yes, once again, it’s the classic story of a young girl who is a grown woman with dwarfism, turned con artist, turned serial killer. Tale as old as time, I know. But that tale is being told with a fun spin on it.

In the directing chair this time is William Brent Bell, director for both of The Boy movies. Honestly, his directing isn’t anything to write home about, with its occasionally poorly composed shots and focus issues. Still, it does serve to fulfill the illusion they’re trying to pull off by making the 5’3 Fuhrman look a foot shorter (even if there are some funny shots meant to show off “Hey, she makes a convincing kid, right? We did good, huh?”).

There’s some wonky editing at points, like with the simulated one take early on, but it works all in all. Cinematographer Karim Hussain of Possessor fame makes some pretty good lighting choices, especially with Esther’s first meeting with an art therapist at the asylum she’s locked up in; I can appreciate the novel use of some flashing red emergency lights giving you glimpses of the tiny terror.

And when it comes to selling the illusion, we must address the makeup and costuming, as Doug Morrow and the rest of the makeup unit’s work is stellar in creating a charming, practical look for Fuhrman. While it’s occasionally funny looking, I prefer it to any clunky attempts to digitally de-age Fuhrman that would have been employed by a lesser crew.

Regarding the structure of the film, the intro sequence is pretty good since it drops any pretense of us not knowing about the first film, but that welcome wears out. The first half of the movie is regrettably where it feels much more like a retread of the 2009 film than its own entity. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let that drive you away searching for a new movie to watch; it’s just something I must warn you about. This all changes around the 50-minute mark.

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In a returning performance, Isabelle Fuhrman isn’t as genuinely frightening as she was in the original. Still, I think that has a lot to do with the plot structure less than her ability to be scary. Esther, as a threat feels a little sillier this time around as a villain you love-to-hate, and angles on her as a sociopath con man who happens to have killing as a side hustle. She’s very mustache twirly when no one is around, with a full suiting up montage to her own piano music, and it’s very fun.

As far as the other performers go, the highlight is Julia Stiles, who at first seems like she’s treating this with a much more serious performance than it deserves, with Tricia mirroring Farmiga’s grounded character from the first film and sounding dire and dour all the time…

But then the whole world of this film goes batshit insane.

The bold choice to turn her from a protagonist to a deuteragonist who is just as mean-spirited and evil as Esther made me love this movie and flip from mildly bored to thoroughly entertained. Matthew Finlan’s Gunnar as her conspirator isn’t anything special with clunky line deliveries and dialogue, but his demise is especially enjoyable.

As far as the other performances go, Esther’s newfound father, Allen is flat feeling against the exceptional Tricia, but he’s doing the best he can with the crumbs he’s allotted. The character of Detective Donnan is kind of just a lurking cop gargoyle with a preternatural amount of insight on Esther being evil. Still, he makes the perfect red herring as Esther’s would-be nemesis in the little dose we get of him.

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I wouldn’t mind seeing this become a low-budget yearly franchise, just going through the families she terrorized on her way through America. You know, before eventually getting kicked into a frozen lake.

BOTTOMLINE: The film doesn’t just avoid the pitfall of being a safe, predictable sequel; it does a triple backflip over the pit for extra style and doesn’t overstay its welcome. This is a solid “must-watch” addition to your docket of movies for this weekend.

You can watch Orphan: First Kill on Paramount+!

Luis Pomales-Diaz is a freelance writer and lover of fantasy, sci-fi, and of course, horror. When he isn't working on a new article or short story, he can usually be found watching schlocky movies and forgotten television shows.

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When You Need a Scary Movie That’s Actually Scary: ‘Terrified’

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Horror fans are constantly searching for a horror movie that will scare them. Predictability is one of the major culprits of the dilution of horror in horror films. Many of us feel it has already been done and then gets redone ad infinitum. There tends to be a format that scary movies follow, making it so that even new films don’t feel new. And those that try to differ from this pit of repetition tend to find themselves so far on the fringes that the work doesn’t translate well to general audiences.

The film Terrified on Shudder is widely regarded as one of the best that the horror platform offers, and with good reason. With its continuous sequences of pure nightmare fuel, there is no telling what will happen from one minute to the next. As the mystery unfolds, the terror only rises until reaching a crescendo of full-on calamity. Through the perspectives of numerous characters, Terrified tells a chilling story that doesn’t let up, even after it’s over. If you want a scary movie to watch, Terrified is objectively it.

A Unique Story Structure Created a Great Horror Film

The way the movie opens immediately lets viewers know something otherworldly is happening. The story follows the paranormal experiences of different people in a small place in Buenos Aires and the ensuing investigation into these experiences.

The way Terrified tells its tale is one thing that makes it stand out among other horror movies. The story unravels in a way that makes it feels like everyone is the main character, thus making all their experiences feel much more personal and horrific. It’s difficult to know whom we’re supposed to be paying the closest attention to, so we pay more attention to everyone, magnifying the horror. Additionally, numerous storylines take place all at once, causing a total onslaught of tragedy and horror sequences in a way that makes complete sense. The storyline also stood out for the fluid timeline as frequent time jumps occur.

Time Flies When You’re Terrified

Just as a character remarks in the film, time moves differently here. The constant action-packed sequence of events that unfolds creates a sense of time distortion where minutes fly by. This is because viewers’ brains are working overtime to process everything they’ve just seen – the ramifications of what they’ve witnessed while simultaneously being thrust into a new scenario, a new horror, another tragedy. The way everything is presented, one gruesome moment after another, it’s like your brain doesn’t even have time to fully process the last haunting images you saw before you’re grappling with another three. The haunting imagery in this film is unrelenting.

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What Makes This Scary Movie Worth the Watch

What’s a scary motion picture without some haunting imagery? When it comes to Terrified, take your pick. A monster under the bed, footprints that travel up walls, and head-turning corpses are only some of this film’s spooky visuals.

The movie uses some gore but does not lean on it to be scary. Likewise, the film doesn’t rely on jump scares, but they are sweat-inducingly effective when they inevitably do happen.‘

Yet, all of this is not where the true terror of Terrified lies.

Maybe it’s because your brain doesn’t have time to process every event before another happens. Perhaps it’s the strange event sequencing, how time jumps back and forth. Maybe it’s the way that everyone is the main character, so the thought of anyone being safe from the events about to unfold feels dismal. Perhaps it’s the onslaught of horrific imagery. Whatever the case, Terrified excels as a horror movie because it sticks with you after it’s over.

Given the depiction of back-to-back tragedies, the film is immediately rewatchable because it all happens quickly. The way this film can balance so much going on at once without ever feeling sloppy, cluttered, or difficult to follow is an impressive feat. Doubly impressive are the nightmarish images that leave a lasting impact. However, it cannot go without saying that these same images may have been washed out in a lesser horror film had it followed the typical storyline format. Director Demián Rugna’s unique approach to storytelling created an action-packed unpredictable tale that makes this movie so recommendable. If you haven’t seen this film before, it’s time. If you have seen it, you’re probably due for a rewatch.

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Stream Terrified on Shudder today!

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‘M3GAN’ Review: M0th3r Has Arrived

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Load up those gifs and ready your fingertips because a new horror icon has landed.

She’s M3gan, but after a viral marketing campaign that had everyone, including your favorite aunt, calling her “Mother,” you already knew that. Directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound), with a story by Malignant duo James Wan and Akela Cooper (who also penned the script), this meme has quite the pedigree. The hype train is real, and while M3GAN does an excellent job at sprinkling in iconic moments and one-liners while maintaining a relatable thematic throughline, it does so at the expense of a compelling plot. Its charm, however, is that despite containing story beats you can clock by watching the trailer, M3GAN is simply too much fun to care.

The film follows newly orphaned Cady (Violet McGraw, a young Daveigh Chase doppelgänger) as she goes to live with her quintessentially millennial aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a brilliant roboticist working at a toy company. Parenting does not come naturally to the detached and overworked Gemma. So, in the only way she knows, Gemma pawns off the responsibility of helping Cady cope with the death of her parents – as well as conveniently enacting live-in nanny status – to her passion project, the true to size and pussy bow-clad AI companion M3gan. Her plan works until it doesn’t, and everything goes gloriously haywire. If you think you’ve seen it before, you almost certainly have, but this familiar story is in drag.

Those memes were not a fluke, and she’s here to make it clear: M3gan cuts deep. She knows just what to say to make you second guess everything you’ve ever done, and her one-two punch carries enough whiplash to leave you in a coma or worse. She’s a dancer, a singer, a quadrupedal runner, a killer, and a friend. The film’s fusion of practical effects and CGI brings M3gan to life just short of Avatar photorealism, and voice actor Jenna Davis – no stranger to going viral – has mastered the art of feigned innocence. Gemma, M3gan’s creator and rival, does her best at holding her ground against the doll as they vie for Cady’s affection. Williams has snagged another significant horror role, playing the worst millennial you’ll ever meet (Marnie from Girlsincluded) as the Cindy Lauper of Dr. Frankensteins – she just wants kids to have fun. And while M3GAN is relatively low on actual horror stakes, one scene during the film’s climax sees the pair facing off at the dining table in a moment fraught with genuine tension.

Given that M3GAN’s actual Dr. Frankensteins are behind Malignant and Housebound, it’s no surprise that dark comedy is its greatest asset. It is deadly unserious most of the time. When your grin might begin to lose grip, M3gan sings an acapella lullaby of David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium” or casually flings her latest victim’s ear over her shoulder. The laughs are a mixture of camp, subtle, and satirical. Lazy parenting, suburban living, and the carelessness of technological advancement are all up for grabs, and no collectible toy is safe from Allison Williams’ scissors.

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It is to Akela Cooper’s credit that M3GAN can bob and weave through such a riotous tale of a killer doll while not losing focus on its ideas about our unhealthy digital reliance and even poignantly touching upon childhood grief. As if the projectionist accidentally spliced in some Saturday morning cartoons, M3GAN opens with a commercial for the fictional “Purrpetual Petz,” a traditionally annoying toy not unlike Furbys of the 1990s. This idea of a forever companion, whether in the form of an exotic creature, a 4’4” sassy android, or even an iPad, informs our prevalent lack of connection to other humans. Whether used as a means to avoid reality or as parenting by proxy, M3gan is that digital crutch personified. Before you know it, she’s an inseparable “part of the family.” What happens when we lose that connection to our versions of M3gan? If Cady’s actions are anything to go by, we become indignant Veruca Salts of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory fame. Cooper isn’t exaggerating, that’s for sure.

However, this wild ride has pitfalls. If you were to de-drag M3GAN, the film’s bones are that of your stereotypical January throw-away horror flick. There’s no guessing how it will play out – although one of its final scenes does include a nice nod to Aliens – and while I enjoyed myself, I did not leave the theater absolutely gagging as expected. When the action hits its stride, and a lovely needle drop begins the third act, M3GAN does not go as hard as I hoped. I hate to add fire to the flames, but while there are fantastic PG-13 horror films, one as biting as M3GAN deserves a hard R rating. In fact, in a recent LA Times interview, Cooper let the cat out of the bag and said the film had been edited down to PG-13 after its marketing went viral and the suits wanted to cash in on the TikTok crowd. It’s a shame because as M3gan devolves into a sadistic killer, that cold AI side of her gets very dark and twisty.

M3gan’s dark side definitely ponders her existential Westworld fantasy throughout the film’s runtime. While Child’s Play is the obvious comparison point, I could not help but find some Jurassic Park philosophizing in there as well. The unintended consequences of our creations through state-of-the-art technology feel like a not-so-distant reality. We may not see dinosaurs in our lifetime, but Teslas are combusting on the streets as you read this, and we have created innate digital addiction as a disease of the human race. On a macro level, we could bring about the End Times as we are all dramatically slayed by agile android dolls. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Ultimately, M3GAN succeeds in so many ways that it deserves its time in the sun. It may not be the taut techno-thriller of your dreams, but it’s a great way to ring in horror for 2023. Most will know if the film’s humor is for them after one glance at its trailer and marketing, and if you’re on the fence, just dive in. At best, you’ll cackle along with the crowd, and at worst, you’ll probably install one of those screen time management apps on your phone. There is, of course, a wink toward a potential sequel by its conclusion and one unresolved plot thread that would allow a revisit to expand upon the film’s themes in a big way. Plus, there’s the inevitable M3gan/Chucky/Esther/Annabelle pint-sized villain throwdown event the powers-that-be would be fools to ignore.

Spoiler Alert: M3gan would end them.

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Make sure you watch the trailer for M3gan below.

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