HORROR; 2hr 3min
STARRING: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman
Panic attack: Farmiga
Note to prospective adopting parents: when choosing a little girl, don’t go for the only one not playing with the others at the orphanage. Nine-year-old Russian waif Esther (Fuhrman) is poised and artistic, and Kate and John Coleman (Farmiga and Sarsgaard), grieving over the stillborn death of their third child, take to her right away. Esther settles into their household just fine at first, buddying up with younger, deaf daughter Max (Ayrana Engineer). Elder son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) has reservations, though; as well he might, for Esther is as mad as a March hare, her solemn face masking a wellspring of malevolence.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (2005’s House of Wax) is big on atmospheric details. And when Esther really gets going, it’s an open-and-shut case of how deranged she can be — very — and how Kate and John will fall apart as she plays them against each other. Everyone delivers but Farmiga is wonderful, her mounting anguish elevating schlocky material to something that reels you in. Which, under the insane circumstances, is quite some achievement.