By Maisy Flowers
Orphan follows the story of Esther, a little girl who turns out to be a killer, and her adopted family. But Esther and her secrets aren't fictional.
Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2009 film Orphan tells the story of a couple who adopts a nine-year-old girl who may not be exactly what she appears, and it was shockingly based on real-life events. Despite the Orphan movie's mixed reviews, the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the mysterious orphan, was haunting and exceptional. Audiences will be disturbed to learn of the Orphan's real story as the movie is inspired by Barbora Skrlová, a woman who was discovered posing as a 13-year-old boy in Norway.
Strangely, ten years after Orphan's release in 2009, a similar incident occurred in which an Indiana couple adopted a six-year-old Ukrainian girl named Natalia Grace, who also had a form of dwarfism and a murderous streak like Skrlová. This made the August 2022 theatrical release date of the Orphan movie's sequel, Orphan: First Kill, quite timely but the true stories behind the Orphan movie – as well as those seemingly inspired by its plot – are far more disturbing than the events of the films.
Related: Every Major Horror Movie Upcoming In 2022
The True Stories Behind Orphan
The case of Barbora Skrlová and the orphan's real story went national when 13-year-old “Adam,” an adopted boy in Norway, went missing, and it was discovered that he was actually a 33-year-old Czech woman. Skrlová committed her first crimes in the Czech Republic where she came to live with two sisters, Klara and Katerina Mauerova, and Klara’s two children. Klara had significant mental illness, so much so that it was the cause of her separation from her children’s father - allowing Skrlová to more easily manipulate her. These details were loosely adapted to create Orphan and Orphan: First Kill's Esther/Leena and her relationship with her fictional adoptive family.
The real Leena — Barbora Skrlová — began controlling and manipulating Klara's family, pretending that Klara’s two sons, Ondrej and Yakub, were breaking things and misbehaving. Skrlová then convinced the sisters to administer increasingly violent punishments for the boys’ imagined mistakes. Eventually, Skrlová convinced the sisters to lock the boys in the basement and deprive them of food.
When a neighbor alerted the police to potential abuse in the household, the two sisters were arrested, but Skrlová escaped, pretending to be a child. When a 13-year-old boy of Czech parents went missing, Skrlová stepped in to pose as him. It is believed that the parents helped Skrlová pose as their son until she eventually ran away, and their ruse was discovered. Although the movie Orphan is more typically referred to as a Vera Farmiga horror movie, it was undoubtedly Isabelle Fuhrman channeling Barbora Skrlová as Leena that makes the 2009 scarefest truly iconic.
Orphan May Have Inspired A Copycat Crime
After the original film's 2009 release, nearly 10 years later, a unique case came to light which may have been inspired by the Orphan's real story. Indiana couple Kristine and Michael Barnett were well-versed in raising children with special needs. In 2010, they adopted six-year-old Natalia Grace from Ukraine; she had a form of dwarfism that made it difficult for her to walk. Natalia had been in the US for about two years when she came to live with the Barnetts, after her last adopted family had given her up for undisclosed reasons.
Related: Somehow, First Kill Makes Orphan's Most Disturbing Trait Even Worse
After a while, Kristine reported that the girl was threatening the family, standing over them at night, and she even saw her once trying to pour bleach in Kristine’s morning coffee. Strangely resembling the twist in Orphan: First Kill, the Barnetts eventually legally changed Natalia’s age on her birth certificate to twenty-two years old in 2012. Later in 2013, they rented her an apartment and moved to Canada - based on Kristine’s belief that Natalia was dangerous and running a scam.
This was after Kristine began to suspect that Natalia was not actually a child and backs up this suspicion with Natalia’s sophisticated vocabulary, lack of interest in toys, and medical tests which supposedly show Natalia as having the bone density and teeth of a teen or young adult - though later tests dispute these conclusions. Legal charges were waged against the Barnetts in 2014 when Natalia reported to the police that she had been abandoned by her family. When asked about the case, Kristine specifically referenced the 2009 film saying, “The movie Orphan is exactly what happened.”
Maybe it really was a bad idea turning Orphan into a franchise. The Barnetts were charged with two counts of felony neglect of a minor. Kristine still maintains that Natalia is a dangerous adult running a scam and that it wasn't child abuse. Michael, now divorced from Kristine, claims that the couple knew all along that Natalia was a child, but that Kristine convinced everyone to lie about her age. Natalia’s age remains up for debate, and legal action is ongoing to reverse the changes to her birthdate that the Barnetts made.
The sequel - Orphan: First Kill - builds on the lore of Esther 13 years after the first movie's original release. It seems to have drawn a little inspiration from the true-to-life case that the Orphan's real story inspired as well, with Esther pretending to have ties to the United States similar to how Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted Ukrainian Natalia Grace. Moreover, from the beginning to the ending of Orphan: First Kill, Isabelle Fuhrman convincingly plays a younger version of the same deadly character, despite being over a decade older since she first embodied the role of Esther/Leena.
Related: Does Orphan: First Kill Have An After Credits Scene?
Orphan: First Kill's Practical Effects Show How Easy It Is To Be Fooled
How Isabelle Fuhrman's de-aging in Orphan: First Kill was cleverly achieved through practical effects not only signals a refreshing return to the fundamentals of horror - it also makes it clear that the premise can all too easily occur in real life. This is part of what makes Orphan and Orphan: First Kill truly frightening movies. Disturbingly, the Orphan's real story may not be entirely over.
If the team behind Orphan: First Kill can successfully turn a 24-year-old actor into an 8-year-old girl - then it's entirely possible that people like Natalia Grace and Barbora Skrlová are still victimizing real families out there. Although Fuhrman's de-aging in Orphan: First Kill was achieved through a professional effects team, minimal CGI, and clever camera angles, it still shouldn't be that easy, and it really puts into perspective how adults can pass off as children through various techniques. Indeed, Fuhrman's successful de-aging even calls to mind the criticism against Orphan putting parents off adoption, which, although true, only further serves the premise of the Orphan films.
How Actress Isabelle Fuhrman Became Esther In Orphan: First Kill
Tasked with starring in both adaptations of the Orphan's real story, Isabelle Fuhrman reveals how playing Esther was a unique acting exercise. “For me, a lot of the preparation for the new thing was kind of discovering a childlike quality to Esther, because I think the first time around when I did this, as a kid, I was so concerned with pretending to be an adult,” said Fuhrman (via MovieWeb), “and this time, I actually had to put myself in Leena’s shoes and pretend to be a kid. To find that again, I would say, is slightly therapeutic."
The Orphan and Orphan: First Kill star also credits her body doubles, Sadie Lee and Kennedy Irwin, for informing her own performance as Esther. "I got to do a lot of play with the girls who were my body doubles… and really got to discover new qualities about Esther through them.” Undoubtedly, the performances of Fuhrman and her doubles not only made Orphan: First Kill's big twist all the more compelling but also now also serve as a blueprint for similar roles in the psychological horror sub-genre.
The case that is widely accepted to be the truth behind the inspiration for the Orphan film is the case of Barbora Skrlová. The story became a national news event that received widespread coverage after a 13-year-old boy named 'Adam', who was adopted from Norway went missing.What is the true story behind the orphan? ›
The case that is widely accepted to be the truth behind the inspiration for the Orphan film is the case of Barbora Skrlová. The story became a national news event that received widespread coverage after a 13-year-old boy named 'Adam', who was adopted from Norway went missing.What is the true story of Orphan 2009? ›
Esther of Estonia was inspired by the May 2007 media coverage of 34-year-old Barbora Skrlová, an orphan who abused her first adoptive family and ran away from the police when caught. She eventually was found impersonating Adam, a thirteen-year-old boy who had gone missing.What happened to real Esther? ›
As it turns out, the real Esther was accidentally killed by her brother when some sibling rough-housing went too far. Tricia was determined to help Gunnar avoid the consequences of his actions, so she helped him hide Esther's body, and told the authorities her daughter was missing.What is Esther Coleman's backstory? ›
Dr. Värava, who works at the Institute, reveals that Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman from Estonia named Leena Klammer. She has hypopituitarism, a disorder that stunted her physical growth and caused dwarfism and as a result, she spent most of her life posing as a little girl.What happened to the real daughter in orphan? ›
The Twist. Midway through Orphan: First Kill, Tricia unexpectedly reveals how she knew Leena was not her missing daughter: the real Esther is dead. The grade schooler was accidentally killed by her older brother. To protect her son, Tricia pretends to hold out hope that Esther will return despite knowing she never will ...Is orphan a true crime? ›
Despite the Orphan movie's mixed reviews, the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the mysterious orphan, was haunting and exceptional. Audiences will be disturbed to learn of the Orphan's real story as the movie is inspired by Barbora Skrlová, a woman who was discovered posing as a 13-year-old boy in Norway.What mental illness did the Orphan have? ›
Esther is not a 9-year-old girl, but she is a 33-year-old woman who suffers from hypopituitary disease, where her body growth stops at the age of 9. Due to the disease, Esther-- whose real name is Leena-- suffers from depression and disorders.What disease did the Orphan girl have? ›
Kate tried to find out about Esther and discovered the fact that Esther was a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer. She has hypopituitarism, a disorder that causes her to stop growing.Why did Esther break her arm? ›
Kate grabs Esther's arm to get the flowers back and Esther runs off. Later that night Esther sneaks in John's work area, gets a vise and breaks her own arm and convinces John that Kate broke it. In the meantime, Kate discovers that Saarne is not an orphanage, but a mental institution.
It turns out that Esther got killed in an accident thanks to her brother, Gunnar, and his roughhousing.Was the real Esther killed? ›
Just as a detective is closing in on uncovering Leena's secret, Tricia murders him before Leena's eyes, and proceeds to reveal that Esther's brother, Gunnar, actually killed the real Esther by simply taking his childish antics "too far." The twisted mother-son duo have been covering for each other all along, and Leena ...What killed Esther? ›
Knowing from then that Klaus was not his biological son, Mikael forced Esther to suppress Klaus' werewolf side, which she had done by using the blood of Tatia, whom Elijah accidentally killed. She was then killed by Klaus who choked her to death and put the blame to Mikael.What did gunner do to Esther? ›
It turns out Gunner was roughhousing with Esther and accidentally killed her. Not wanting to lose two children, Tricia dumps her daughter's body in a well on their property. (That's also where they left poor Detective Donna).Who is Esther based off? ›
Despite the Orphan movie's mixed reviews, the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the mysterious orphan, was haunting and exceptional. Audiences will be disturbed to learn of the Orphan's real story as the movie is inspired by Barbora Skrlová, a woman who was discovered posing as a 13-year-old boy in Norway.Who adopted Esther's daughter? ›
Encyclopedia.com states: “According to accounts, when Esther's parents died, she was adopted by her father's brother, Mordecai, who later became a courtier of the Persian King Ahasuerus. Mordecai raised her as his daughter, and they became residents of Susa (Shushan), which was formerly the capital of Elam.”Who is the fake Esther in Orphan? ›
First Kill is the prequel to the 2009 horror Orphan which first introduced Esther, a creepy young girl that poses as an orphan for adoption but is actually a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer.How old was the real Esther when she went missing? ›
While the prequel is using practical effects instead of CGI to make Isabelle Fuhrman resemble the homicidal 9-year-old again, it isn't hard to believe Esther is still an adult trying to pass herself off as a 9-year-old. Esther is 33 years old in Orphan, but she is 20, and equally dangerous, in Orphan: First Kill.What did Gunnar do? ›
Gunnar was apprehensive of doing it as the incoming train housed her wife and child. But thankfully, the civilians were let out of the train and allowed to go their own way. Gunnar bravely blows off the bridge despite the German onslaught and was later caught by the troops.Where is the real life orphan? ›
Surprisingly, Orphan (2009) is based off of the true story of a real-life woman, Babora Skrlová, who was found living in Norway, posing as a 13-year-old boy named Adam.
Esther's actions stem from her abusive father
She avoided jail time by using her dwarfism to her advantage and pretending she was a child. Upon recognizing the power of her condition, she began posing as an orphan to seduce unsuspecting adoptive dads.
Parents need to know that Orphan is a gory horror movie centers on extremely violent, sexual acts carried out by a 9-year-old girl. While the film's ultimate twist negates some of the queasy, sleazy feeling that comes from watching this kind of material, the bulk of the movie revolves around the shock value…Why did Esther become a psychopath? ›
There are three causes of Esther's psychopathy, they are; physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional or psychological abuse. In addition, the effects of Esther's psychopathy. They are; on herself, Max, and Kate.How many people has the orphan killed? ›
Leena is violent and has murdered at least seven people, including the last family that adopted her. After failing to seduce her adoptive father, Leena removes the ribbons she was wearing around her wrists and neck, which have been hiding scars from trying to break out of straitjackets during her time at the asylum.What was the big twist in the orphan? ›
The Twist Came Too Early
It's revealed that Tricia and Gunnar are responsible for the original Esther's disappearance. Tricia said her son had been too rough with her, and it was "too late" for her to help her daughter by the time she knew.
The reason why she has her neck covered is because she was once in asylum and she struggled so much in her straitjacket that it left with her deep scars on her neck. Esther is really a 33-year-old woman who was born with proportional dwarfism which causes her to have the appearance of a child.What is under Esther's collar? ›
Her real age is not nine, she is 33. Esther must hide her identity - this includes false teeth (which is why she argued about going to the dentist) and, of course, the ribbons that hide her scars. Her real name is Leena, she was in a mental institution where she was one of the most dangerous patients.Why does Esther dress weird? ›
Esther insists on always wearing dresses instead of jeans, because she's trying to hide her adult figure. Esther never removes her ribbons or collars because she's hiding scars from when she tried to escape her straitjacket.What was Esther's secret? ›
Esther hid a secret, she was the cousin of Mordechai, the Jew. When the wicked Haman develops a plot to kill all the Persian Jews, Esther reveals it to the king who kills Haman and rescinds the decree. The shy orphan girl becomes the heroine of her people.Why did Esther bleed so much? ›
When she loses her virginity, she bleeds so copiously that she must seek medical attention. The presence of blood suggests a ritual sacrifice: Esther will sacrifice her body for peace of mind, and sacrifice her virginity for the sake of experience.
The character wears a distinctive ribbon choker and two ribbon bracelets around her wrists, which appear to be velvet. The accessories serve a utility purpose: they are to hide the scars she has received from repeatedly fighting against restraints.What happened to Daniel in Orphan? ›
As he is resting in the ICU, Esther sneaks into his hospital room alone, taking off Daniel's oxygen mask and pulse oximeter. She clips the pulse oximeter on her finger to avoid setting off an alarm and smothers him with a pillow.Is the book of Esther movie accurate? ›
The story of Esther is overused in movies, probably because it is easy to replicate and the plot suits most audiences. But this film is not even a good adaptation—it misrepresents Biblical and historical events and includes unnecessary parts.How did they make Esther look old Orphan? ›
As Bell said: "We had three body doubles and everything from her wardrobe had to be sized up, but also fit her adult body like a child. Anytime adults were around her the camera would be at an angle to force the perspective–tricks that have been done in Hollywood movies forever."Who killed Esther the second time? ›
Esther does a spell to make the final white oak stake indestructible, and she turns Alaric into an Original who can only die when Elena dies. However, Alaric kills Esther before the transition is completed and while he's still himself. Klaus then takes her body.What did Esther do to her sister? ›
Sisters, Family, Former Allies/Enemies; They love and care about each other, Esther betrayed Dahlia by choosing to marry Mikael nearly over a thousand years ago (Dahlia went after Esther and her children as revenge for this), They made peace with each other in death and are currently at peace together as well.Why does Esther cover her chest? ›
Yes, there is a reason for it. As I remember while watching the movie, Esther is a woman so she has well developed breasts, which she hides by wearing body wrappings. And normal child clothes will show the body wrappings easily because they have thin fabrics compared to the thick fabric dresses that she wears.What happened to Max in Orphan? ›
Max almost died playing by ice when she was younger as a result of Kate getting drunk and not keeping an eye on her. This permanently damaged Maxes ears and was the reason she's almost 100% deaf.How old is Esther? ›
This tradition results from the desire to equate Esther's age with that of Abraham when he left his native land for The Land of IsraelErez Israel upon God's command. Yet another tradition maintains that she was eighty years of age (Gen. Rabbah 39:13; Midrash Abba Gurion, para. 20).Does Esther have dwarfism? ›
Isabelle Fuhrman, who originated the skin-crawling role of Esther, a murderous woman with proportional dwarfism pretending to be a 9-year-old in 2009's Orphan, is reprising her role in a prequel.
Among these women is a Jewish orphan named Esther, who was raised by her cousin or uncle, Mordecai (2:5–7). She finds favour in the King's eyes, and is crowned his new queen, but does not reveal her Jewish heritage (2:8–20).Who is Esther's baby daddy? ›
Esther Mikaelson (née Hagen) is a Witch. She is the wife of Mikael Agnarsson and the former lover of Ansel Aumont. She is also the younger sister of Dahlia Hagen. By her husband she is the mother of Freya Mikaelsdotter, Finn Mikaelson, Elijah Mikaelson, Kol Claire Mikaelson, Rebekah Mikaelson, and Henrik Mikaelson.Who is the biological father of Queen Esther? ›
|Born||Hadassah ( הדסה) Achaemenid Empire|
|Title||Queen of Persia and Medes|
|Spouse||Ahasuerus of Persia|
|Parent(s)||Abihail (biological father) Mordecai (adoptive father)|
Esther was queen for three years before Haman put his plot to work.What mental illness did the orphan have? ›
Esther is not a 9-year-old girl, but she is a 33-year-old woman who suffers from hypopituitary disease, where her body growth stops at the age of 9. Due to the disease, Esther-- whose real name is Leena-- suffers from depression and disorders.Is Annie the orphan based on a true story? ›
Annie the musical is based on Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie," which itself was based on an 1885 poem originally titled "The Elf Child." At the poem's third printing, poet James Whitcomb Riley decided to change its title to "Little Orphan Allie" to memorialize the real-life orphan that served as ...What disease did the orphan girl have? ›
Kate tried to find out about Esther and discovered the fact that Esther was a 33-year-old woman named Leena Klammer. She has hypopituitarism, a disorder that causes her to stop growing.What did Gunner do to the real Esther? ›
It turns out Gunner was roughhousing with Esther and accidentally killed her. Not wanting to lose two children, Tricia dumps her daughter's body in a well on their property. (That's also where they left poor Detective Donna). Why does Tricia not turn in Leena?What happened to Esther's neck? ›
The reason why she has her neck covered is because she was once in asylum and she struggled so much in her straitjacket that it left with her deep scars on her neck. Esther is really a 33-year-old woman who was born with proportional dwarfism which causes her to have the appearance of a child.Who is the real Esther in orphan? ›
Despite the Orphan movie's mixed reviews, the performance of Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, the mysterious orphan, was haunting and exceptional. Audiences will be disturbed to learn of the Orphan's real story as the movie is inspired by Barbora Skrlová, a woman who was discovered posing as a 13-year-old boy in Norway.
"The blank eyes of characters in 'Little Orphan Annie' almost became Gray's signature, leaving the reader to interpret the mood themselves," according to The Cartoonist website www.thecartoonists.ca. But Uncyclopedia.wikia.com reveals that "the eyes don't actually mean anything; they're just creepy."Is Orphan Annie still alive? ›
|Born||June 28, 1971 Yardley, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|Occupation(s)||Actress, singer, dancer|
In fact, the ribbons worn around her neck and wrists are to hide the scars she got while trying to break free of a straitjacket. After fleeing the hospital, Esther became a sex worker in Estonia. She avoided jail time by using her dwarfism to her advantage and pretending she was a child.What mental disorder does Esther have? ›
Esther's development of psychotic depression is Plath's interpretation of the classic “rite of passage” journey. The bell jar of confusion that descends on Esther hampers her personal progress, yet it protects her from being overwhelmed by a highly competitive social world.