Is Orphan based on a true story? Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the 2009 horror movie Orphan is a bonafide cult classic. With Isabelle Fuhrman playing the leading role of the murderous Esther, the flick shocked the world with its harsh story and an iconic plot twist. However, it turns out that Esther’s antics aren’t all that fictional. In fact, the script of Orphan is eerily similar to a shocking true story.
The psychological thriller movie Orphan tells the story of a family who bring a seemingly ‘young girl’ into their home after the passing of one of their children. However, in one of the most memorable reveals in cinematic history, it is exposed that their new ‘nine-year-old’ daughter is actually a 33-year-old woman from Estonia with a habit of scamming families and partaking in identity theft.
While on paper, this twist may seem outlandish at first, the mind-boggling premise may actually be loosely based on the very real case of Barbora Skrlova. Skrlova made news headlines back in 2007 and 2008 after it was discovered that the then 33-year-old Czech woman had spent four months posing as a 13-year-old boy named Adam in Norway.
The reason for her deception: to escape the Czech authorities. Prior to her time in Norway, Skrlova lived with another household, posing as the 12-year-old step-daughter of a woman called Klara Mauerova – who was later taken into custody for child abuse. Mauerova was arrested on the charge of abusing her two younger biological sons, Ondrej and Yakub – torturing them, and keeping them in a cage for a year.
Skrlova, was first considered a key witness in the case, before becoming a suspect in the mistreatment of the young boys herself. Knowing Mauerova’s battle with mental health, she allegedly fuelled the flames by pretending the boys were constantly misbehaving and encouraging Mauerova to dish out increasingly violent punishments.
In an article published by Spiegel International, it was revealed that Skrlova fled the Czech republic to avoid the police regarding her involvement with the Mauerova case. When she spotted that a 13-year-old boy was missing, Skrlova jumped at the chance to make her big escape.
Adam’s parents issued her a passport and introduced the woman as their son. For months she fooled teachers and classmates alike, but eventually, the law caught up to her once she, as ‘Adam’, decided to run away from the family and was discovered by authorities.
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While Collet-Serra hasn’t said that the highly publicised Skrlova case is what directly inspired his horror movie Orphan, the parallels are pretty big, so it’s understandable why people would assume a connection. Both Esther and Skrlova bound their chests and used their appearances to get away with identity theft, and neither were first-time offenders when it came to posing as children either.
Subconscious or not, the similarities between the real court case and the 2000s movie are massive and being horror nerds; we can’t ignore them. But the intersection between reality and the silver screen doesn’t end there, horror friends. Skrlova’s wouldn’t be the last true story with a reminiscent Orphan storyline to make international news.
Nearly ten years after the flick’s release, a US couple, Kristine and Michael Barnett adopted the six-year-old Natalia Grace from Ukraine. According to USAToday, Kristine suspected their new daughter might be older than the couple originally thought.
This suspicion deepened when the girl reportedly lacked interest in toys and constantly used sophisticated language. The publication also shared that Natalia reportedly “threatened to kill Kristine and the family’s three other biological children”, and Kristine claimed that she once saw Natalia trying to pour bleach in her morning coffee.
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According to the Barnetts, Natalia Grace was supposedly a Ukrainian woman with dwarfism – similar to Esther in Orphan, who was a woman suffering from hypopituitarism. However, Natalia’s true age to this day remains unclear, as in 2010, a physician declared she was eight. Then in 2012, it was said she was 12, and then later that same year, her age was legally changed by the Barnetts with a court judge’s approval to pronounce her in her 20s.
The Barnetts would go on to abandon Natalia, who would live with another family for a time. In 2019, the Barnetts were charged for neglect of a dependent, but pleaded not guilty to these original charges, which were later dropped due to legal technicalities.
Despite Natalia’s case happening relatively recently, the new Orphan movie, Orphan: First Kill, is still more reminiscent of Skrlova’s original story than Natalia’s. In the 2022 sequel, Esther escapes Estonia and flees to America in order to evade capture from the mental institute she escaped from.
She poses as a missing child to an affluent family who bring her home – unknowingly letting a stranger on the run into their house. Sounds a lot like the whole ‘Adam’ scenario, if you ask me.
Orphan: First Kill is out in cinemas now. To learn more about the horror, check out our Orphan: First Kill review.