Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and her husband, John (Peter Sarsgaard), are grieving over the loss of their stillborn daughter, and are in the early stages of adopting a child who, Kate hopes, will go some way to filling the gap left in their lives. On their first visit to a children's home, they meet Esther, a precocious nine-year-old Russian girl whose self-possession and artistic skills win them over immediately. With implausible speed, Esther moves in with the Colemans and their two other children. Soon, Kate begins to suspect that Esther poses a grave danger to the rest of her family. Not entirely surprisingly, the film's cinema release was the subject of a boycott organised by adoption groups in the US who felt it encouraged prejudice against adopted children, particularly those from Eastern Europe. It's not hard to see why some people were offended, particularly since the initial promotional campaign for the film used the tagline "It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own." (Warner Bros changed it to "There's something wrong with Esther.") When the US DVD was released in October, it included a short pro-adoption film. Issues of taste aside, the film's main problem is structural. Normally, creepy-kid movies keep the audience guessing for a while, but here it's clear almost from the start that Esther is evil. With just under two hours to fill, you'd expect that the film would come up with a more absorbing back story for Esther than it does. In fact, there is a creepy atmosphere plus a handful of good scenes, but not much substance. Despite the quality of the acting, attention wanes towards the end, and the twist in the tale, audacious and far-fetched as it is, feels perfunctory rather than jaw-dropping.
* Ella Stimson