Orphan: First Kill

Orphan: First Kill

As summer starts to wind itself to a close (we hope), never forget the strength and endurance that we derive from storytelling. Partially, this is me seconding my colleague and friend Craig D. Lindsey’s recent review of Three Thousand Years of Longing, which is absolutely a film to see in theaters if you feel comfy doing so. But it’s also something that’s been sticking in my mind during all the travails with the current head of Warner Bros. Discovery no-placing all sorts of completed works that would otherwise help make society bearable. This isn’t meant as a political harangue — just an observation. If you get rid of things that people love, that makes you a bad person. But if you also get rid of things that people love and are popular, then that makes you a bad businessperson, and surely at least one of those realizations should sink in.

As always, here are some recommendations for what to stream (and to check out elsewhere). Look back at past issues of the Scene for more.

Orphan: First Kill in theaters and via Paramount+

If 2009’s Orphan was a neat inversion of gothic tradition and parental psychosis, this prequel extends its tendrils into Lifetime true-crime riffs, gauzy nighttime soap operas, ultraviolet Electra dramas, and the meticulous vivisection of modern American wealth. Mark my words — somewhere there’s a grad student working on a thesis that understands the Orphan diptych as critiques of domestic and foreign policy, and more power to them for that. And that isn’t even getting into the way this particular narrative seems to be Tarantino-style what-if-ing one of the more infamous unsolved crimes in rich white American history.

Esther, the titular orphan, is the best horror icon to come along in years. This is her show, and Isabelle Fuhrman is a treasure, capable of childhood innocence, hardened intrigue and deeply upsetting emotions. In all fairness, this prequel is subtitled First Kill, but it’s not even Esther’s first family-sized spree. Dare we dream of another Esther story, even further back in time? The filmmakers go all out with forced perspective shots, child-size body doubles and gauzy surreality to bring the audience along for the ride.

Julia Stiles in this film is giving a performance on several levels, and part of me really wishes she had had this kind of fine-hewn freedom when she had to slog through that Omen remake back in 2006. Stiles has a gift for the tightrope walk between arch and camp, and she gets some killer lines. As this film’s Agamemnon equivalent, Rossif Sutherland (you might remember him as Andrea Riseborough’s fuzzy academic of a husband in Possessor) leans into genuine emotions, and it works; this is the kind of performance that helps ground the continuum for the other actors, allowing them to go hog wild as need be.

The Kids in the Hall on Amazon Prime Video

The new season of The Kids in the Hall (their first since the mid-’90s) is a triumph that we don’t even really have an apt comparison for. It is not a disappointment, and it manages to evolve and transcend even what it was and is fondly remembered for being. You’ll find some similarities with Season 3 of Twin Peaks, but sketch comedy and cosmic drama aren’t exactly working in the same spaces.

Point being, the new Kids in the Hall is a joyous return that finds the Canadian quintet continuing at the top of their game. Some of the beloved characters from the previous CBC/HBO/CBS run return, but never in a way that feels empty or shameless. Bigger than any single character, though, is the world that the Kids bring back, a pansexual space where anything is possible, as long as it’s funny.

Out There Halloween Mega Tape via your favorite weirdo video store

You might have seen the WNUF Halloween Special (currently streaming on Shudder), a creative and kicky found-footage film from a few years back. WNUF presented itself as the preserved broadcast of a UHF station’s community Halloween special that took a detour into some unsettling pathways. It was a little ragged around the edges, but director Chris LaMartina and his resourceful buddies came up with something distinctive — especially in the manufactured ads they used diegetically — as part of the broadcast.

Well, a few years later, LaMartina & Co. have returned with Out There Halloween Mega Tape, which is a spiritual sibling to WNUF, structurally innovative and deeply rewatchable. OTHMT is made up of two sections: the first a 1994 Halloween episode of the Ivy Sparks Show (think Ricki Lake/Jerry Springer), the second a live investigation (also featuring the character of Sparks) two years later into the township’s mysterious history involving unexplainable phenomena. There’s more confidence this time around, and the in-universe commercials are some of the most ramped-up and on-target slices of political satire you’re going to get outside of Paul Verhoeven/Ed Neumeier collaborations. This, like WNUF, absolutely has the potential to become an indie horror classic, and anyone with even a casual interest in critical studies of nostalgia (or some exceptional narrative twists) should make OTHMT appointment viewing this Halloween season. As it is, maximum respect for crafting something different. Track it down or buy a copy.

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