Kate and John (Farmiga and Sarsgaard) live in a spectacular designer home in the snowy countryside with their bright children Danny and Maxine (Bennett and Engineer), who happens to be deaf. But they have a tormented past, peppered with infidelity, addiction and a tragic miscarriage. They decide to adopt a child to get back on course, and settle for the perky Esther (Fuhrman), a 9-year-old Russian who learns very quickly indeed. She's also up to no good, as the ominous underscore keeps reminding us.
The more we see Esther at work, the more we're amazed by her stealthy ninja tactics. She looks like a commando-trained supervillain as she sneaks around on her sinister business. The whole film is clearly designed for horror movie set pieces: cringe at the vertiginous tree-house, fret over the frozen-over pond! And as the final act explodes into deep nastiness, the plot takes a remarkably gonzo twist that's both creepy and rather hilarious.
For all of the glassy style director Collet-Serra injects into this film, it's still a thoroughly predictable thriller. Much of the film is shot like a particularly hellish nightmare, which indeed some scenes are. There are plenty of red herrings, scary noises and dream sequences to throw us off the scent and to keep us giggling at our jangled nerve endings. Meanwhile, the extremely strong cast dives fully into their B-movie roles, so we can smile at their idiotic actions, knowing that the grisliness will catch up with them in increasingly vicious ways.
Clearly, this is not the best ad for adoption, as it indulges in both common misconceptions and the cruel things people thoughtlessly say. The film also features the world's nicest but worst therapist (the marvellous Martindale), a smiley but inept nun (Pounder), some jaw-dropping anti-Russian moments and a supposedly happy marriage that's really a hotbed of mistrust and bitterness waiting to be stirred up by a black-hearted orphan. Yes, it's absolutely unhinged. And pretty good fun too.
Run time: 123 mins
In Theaters: Friday 24th July 2009
Box Office USA: $41.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $41.6M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Appian Way, Dark Castle Entertainment, Studio Babelsberg StudioBabelsberg Motion Pictures, Don Carmody Productions, Studio Canal, DCP Orphan Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 81 Rotten: 66
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Screenwriter: David Leslie Johnson
Starring: Vera Farmiga as Kate Coleman, Peter Sarsgaard as John Coleman, Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, C. C. H. Pounder as Sister Abigail, Jimmy Bennett as Daniel Coleman, Margo Martindale as Dr. Browning, Karel Roden as Dr. Värava, Aryana Engineer as Max Coleman, Rosemary Dunsmore as Grandma Barbara, Jamie Young as Brenda, Lorry Ayers as Joyce, Brendan Wall as Detective, Genelle Williams as Sister Judith, Mustafa Abdelkarim as Daniel's Friend #1, Landon Norris as Daniel's Friend #2, Julien Elia as Hospital Receptionist, Leni Parker as Delivery Room Nurse, Gemma James Smith as Teacher, Pia Ajango as Saarne Institute Receptionist, Matthew Raudsepp as Saarne Institute Orderly, Sugith Varughese as ICU Doctor, Luis Olivia as ICU Nurse, Ferelith Young as Waiting Room Nurse, Andrew Shaver as Injection Doctor
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