Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John (Peter Sarsgaard) arrive at a hospital where she is clearly in the beginning stages of labor. A nurse begins wheeling Kate away as she looks down and sees blood pouring underneath her and we are taken into the delivery room. The Doctors state they are sorry for her lose but continue to deliver the child. Awoken out of a terrible dream, Kate arises to enter a bathroom filled with haunting memories from her past, taking some medication. The day presses on as we see Kate speaking with Dr. Browning, (Margo Martindale) her therapist. Discussing matters of adoption and finding herself reflecting how she had recently been tempted to buy alcohol as we later find out she is a recurring alcoholic.
Picking up her deaf daughter Max (Aryana Engineer) and her mind elsewhere, she nearly avoids running straight into an eight wheeler on the way home. Trying to relieve stress by playing piano, she’s interrupted by Max throwing a ball against a wall outside. Which turned into perfect timing as John arrived home with their son and they progressed inside. Before bedtime telling Max a story involving her waiting for her new sister but mommy telling her that she had gone to heaven instead. The next day driving to St. Mariana: a home for foster girls and visit with Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder). They arrange for a look around and see if any of the girls stand out on their own. John hearing singing coming from upstairs and discovering a girl by the name of Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). She explains what she’s drawing and how she liked to tell stories with them. Finding John upstairs with Esther, she’s introduced to Kate as they switch scenes, discussing all the necessary details of her background. Having come from Russia and surviving a house fire, she came with caution of being special and having gone through a lot. Given a new addition to their family, the rest of the introductions are made and Christmas tries to go smoothly but seems their son Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) had not taken an immediate liking to Esther.
That first night Esther wakes up to the sound of lighting, asking Max to accompany her in spending the night in their parents bed. Later the next day, Max and Esther are scolded for playing at the pond right next to their house. We’re also given hints as to a past altercation occurring at the same spot, later explained. The students at school don’t take a liking to her either when it’s clear they don’t plan on making things easier for her and she lashes out. While showing Esther a designated area set up for their lost child, who they named Jessica, Esther states how she would have been lucky to have such great parents, creating her first moment with Kate.
Stripping down and being “intimate” that night while in the kitchen they are disrupted by Esther, taking some time out of the next day to try to explain the incident. Saying it shouldn’t even be discussed and claiming to know that people fuck, catching Kate a bit off guard. It then goes to the kids at school on the playground and Esther takes a interest in the girl who had been singling her out since her arrival. Beginning to wearily move around the playground and taking notice of Esther’s disappearance from the swings, the girl is caught off guard when pushed off a section of the playground. Breaking her leg, she’s sent a pretty obvious warning.
Not reprimanded for her crime and Kate and John increasingly fighting since Esther’s arrival starts to take its toll on them. When a visit from Sister Abigail reveals startling information on how trouble has had a way of following this girl, being an understatement by this point. If I may also avert this review in stating that it’s pretty clear from the get go this little girl, is uh…how you say, crazy! And as the movie progresses you see these evil things this girl is doing and can’t believe how put together she seems in spite of it. Obviously knowing what she is doing, you watch her take poor Max out for her sick adventures and cover up each one with such little consequence. And what kind of cracked out psychiatrist doesn’t find her odd in any way?
Ah-MAZE-ing performances done in the film by Farmiga and Fuhrman. You felt so sorry for Kate and what she had been through to then have her husband treat her like she was crazy and a daughter and son scared to be near her. Stopping at nothing and reaching the brink of sanity, Farmiga fights to survive and save what was left of her family. Doing an overall really great job. Isabelle was only around the age of 12 yet achieved such an incredible role to take on at a young age. Her character may hold a baffling secret but it was no wonder with the very convincing notions by Fuhrman that it came as such a surprise. Sarsgaard played the harsh husband already having strayed in the past. Having been in other previous great films Jarhead, Kinsey, The Skeleton Key and Garden State, he simply added yet a continuation of his optimal presence on-screen. Some scenes intended to scare were a bit predictable however what the movie lacked in actual Horror made up for in a great story with a hidden twist creating an immediate eeriness from start and continuing through to the end.
Mad Fact: They cast Isabelle Fuhrman despite them writing the role for a fair-skinned, delicate featured platinum blonde girl, being wowed by her audition.