(director: Jaume Collet-Serra; screenwriters: David Johnson/from the story by Alex Mace; cinematographer: Jeff Cutter; editor: Tim Alverson; music: John Ottman; cast: Vera Farmiga (Kate Coleman), Peter Sarsgaard (John Coleman), Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther), CCH Pounder (Sister Abigail), Jimmy Bennett (Daniel Coleman), Margo Martindale (Dr. Browning), Karel Roden (Dr. Varava), Aryana Engineer (Max Coleman), Rosemary Dunsmore (Grandma Barbara), Genelle Williams (Sister Judith); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Leonardo DiCaprio/Susan Downey/Joel Silver; Warner Bros.; 2009)
“An idiotic anti-adoption movie that skates over thin ice in its silly but vicious story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”) directs this Evil Child Thriller, turning it into an idiotic anti-adoption movie that skates over thin ice in its silly but vicious story. The good news is that it will have absolutely no effect on adoptions because everything about this fright flick is bogus and ludicrous. It’s based on the story by Alex Mace and is written by David Johnson. It’s a creepy shocker that gets under one’s skin, adds nothing meaningful to the genre, goes on for too long, is far too manipulative and it doesn’t seem worthwhile sitting through all the unpleasantness when it offers so little entertainment, artistic or educational value–only a solid performance in evil by the deranged villain and credible performances by the villain’s parents and the other child actors.
Warning: spoilers in next paragraph.
Well-to do professionals, guilt-ridden recovering alcoholic and ex-Yale professor Kate (Vera Farmiga) and former adulterer with a still wandering eye, architect John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard), are a married couple living in a country Home & Garden luxury home in Connecticut (filmed in snow-covered Quebec) with two children, a wimpy adolescent boy who hangs out in a treehouse, Danny (Jimmy Bennett), and a docile sweet partially deaf (caused by the drunken mom’s neglect) elementary school daughter Max (Aryana Engineer). When their third child is stillborn they feel compelled to shop for a replacement child at an orphanage run by nuns–St. Mariana’s Home for Girls. Evidently neither they nor the orphanage are much on background checks (never checking on mom’s neglect or that there’s no records for the orphan at the Russian orphanage). Thereby they make the wrong adoption choice, but it takes them way too long and after too many tragic events to discover that the prim and overly polite 9-year-old Russian child they adopted, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), with a gift for drawing, playing Tchaikovsky on the piano, talking with a slight Transylvanian accent, wearing dresses like Little Bo Peep, maiming other children, hiding scars with ribbons, arson and wielding a hammer on the noggin of a nun, is really a preternaturally mature moppet, missing from a loony bin in Russia. The orphan killed the last family that adopted her by burning down the house. She terrorizes the good folks in wintry Connecticut by turning one family member against the other with disinformation and resorting to a series of violent acts that the longer it goes on the more ludicrous and annoying it gets. It goes on for so long because we are asked to believe something as incredulous as obedient children, who know right from wrong and witness dangerous criminal actions, are unable to tell their parents and continue to behave normally at all times, even as the violent incidents continue.
If you enjoy such trashy nonsensical camp and its “boo!” shots mechanically delivered throughout, then here might be a ‘good-bad movie’ for the heartless, haters of shrinks, downgraders of foreigners and those who take their ‘bad seed’ children films with a supersize bag of popcorn.
REVIEWED ON 7/26/2009 GRADE: C