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If you don't want any movie spoilers, do NOT read this.
WOW! I was TERRIFIED to watch this movie. The cover photo makes it look like it's going to be an eerie bloodbath or some kind of horror movie. The dark lighting on her face and her expression really summarize the fear you should feel from this little girl Esther. I am not a fan of horror movies, but this movie was not one! Thankfully. I wanted to watch more of Vera Farmiga's work after watching Bates Motel. I am OBSESSED with her. So after finally building up the courage to watch it, I was mind blown by this story. I was so intrigued and had so many more questions because the character of Esther as a villain is so unique.
Kate and John walk into a very welcoming and happy orphanage, children laughing and playing everywhere. John ventures upstairs following a singing voice. There he finds Esther painting flawlessly all by herself, looking as sweet and precious as ever. Bonding with John over her art, she makes a connection with him. Shortly after, Kate joins them also bonding with Esther over her art. Asking why she isn't playing with the other kids, she responds with, "I guess I'm different." This line right here is the set up for the rest of the film. You know after her comment her "different" has a whole different meaning. But I mean, you could tell that just by looking at her.
The movie opens up to Kate (Farmiga) and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) wheeling Kate to a delivery room. After being taken to the room the feel takes a creepier turn. The labor seems fine and normal at first, but then more confusing from Kate's perspective, Kate finally giving birth to not a child, but a bloody mass. After a confused and screaming Kate wakes up, you realize why they are considering adoption in the first place. The couple already have two children Daniel and Max, but they had lost their third baby Jessica. Kate feels like she could still give another child a chance at a better life and thus is the meeting and adopting of 9-year-old Russian, Esther.
Esther is brought back to her new home and meets her new siblings, showing her new knowledge of sign language to her new deaf little sister Max. Esther gets the normal introduction to everything, including her new room. They give her gifts as a welcome to their family. Since bringing her home, her now brother Daniel seems like he's jealous of all the attention she's getting but later it's shown he's never settled to the idea of her. Max, on the other hand, is overjoyed to have a big sister and quickly bonds with Esther. Around this time, they also introduce that Kate has had drinking problems in the past, but that she has worked through them.
The first disturbing thing Esther does to bring her character to question is Daniel was playing with a paint gun and shot a bird. Obviously feeling guilty about doing so, Esther and Max approach where Esther tells him he will have to put it out of its misery. Daniel, chickening out, refuses to do so. Esther then smashes the bird with a rock, and keeps on with her day. Shortly later it's revealed Esther has a Bible hidden amongst her new things, with a picture of a man in its pages found by Kate. This leads to Kate beginning to wonder if there’s something they don’t know about Esther.
We all know going into this movie, there is obviously something up with this kid. Duh. This being said, the next instance of odd behavior from Esther was at a playground. They show Esther beginning school with her new siblings earlier on. Struggling to make friends and relate to the other kids, one girl in particular likes to poke fun at her. Coincidently running into her while at the park with John and Max, the two have a stare down and in the end Esther ends up pushing her off the top of a slide, causing her to break her leg. Max, now beginning to become more afraid of her, does not mention what she saw.
A nun from the orphanage stops by after hearing about the playground incident, mentioning she thinks she made a mistake. That there IS something wrong with Esther. John thinks it’s crazy. Kate wants to hear her out. The nun mentions everytime something bad happens, Esther is always there. An incident occurred at a different orphanage she was in—a boy “fell” onto some scissors, causing it to go into his jaw. Fishy isn’t it? Esther of course hears all of this (she knows EVERYTHING) and convinces Max to help her get rid of the nun because “she wants to take me away.” The girls walk out to the road where the nun will be driving by. As soon as they see her car, Esther pushes Max out in front of it, causing the nun to stop and wonder what Max is doing out there in the first place, and then BAM! Whacked with a hammer, by... you guessed Esther! Ding ding ding! Anyways, Esther kills her and has Max help her hide the body. A horrible sister move if you ask me. I mean, “help me hide this body now little sister, also I love you.” But anyways, they leave the nun's body to freeze in the snow and hide the hammer and now bloody clothes in Daniel's treehouse.
A few more events occur between Esther and Kate, causing more and more tension between the two. Esther manipulating John to make Kate look worse that what’s actually happening is more like it. I don’t want to give too much away! But once the news has reached Kate and John of the nun's “mysterious” murder, Kate researches the orphanage where Esther's bible is from. At the same time, Daniel is trying to help Max and get the lovely murder weapon from his treehouse. Of course, Esther is on top of this and sets the treehouse on fire, causing Daniel to be hospitalized.
On this hospital visit, Kate is going crazy, fully knowing this is Esther's fault, and that it was intentional. John tries to defend her as he just sees her as a sweet little girl. While this discussion is happening, Esther sneaks off to finish Daniel off for good. Trying to smother him with a pillow, she leaves thinking she succeeded, returning to her family who is now aware something new is happening with Daniel. Kate goes into a rage yelling at Esther saying, “What did you do? What did you do?” And then ends up slapping her in the face, leading the nurses to sedate Kate as John and the girls return home.
Now this is where things begin to make sense, as so many secrets are revealed! The original orphanage Esther was from gives Kate a call. At this point, Kate has already discovered it was not an orphanage but an insane asylum. Surprise, surprise right? Upon this call though, it’s revealed Esther is NOT a nine year old orphan but in fact a 33-year-old women named Leena Klammer, who was kept in an asylum but escaped and killed her last adoptive family (we'll get back to her story in a second). Kate, of course, is freaking out. She rushes home in a snow storm nonetheless, crashing her car into her beautiful home and finding John... dead... and stabbed on the floor (Thanks Esther). Kate then has to save Max, avoid being shot or stabbed, and fight to the death with "Esther." Of course, Kate defeats her!
Esther, or Leena, suffered from a pituitary disorder—a form of dwarfism. Not being physically an adult woman made it hard for her to have any normal adult relationships which she desired. Leena was sexually abused by her father starting in infancy. When her father got a girlfriend and told her she would "never be a real woman," she was pushed into insanity, killing her father and his girlfriend. Obviously caught and put into the Saarne institute, Leena was one of their most violent patients and had to be kept in a straitjacket. Constantly trying to get out of it caused scars on her neck and wrists, which she covered with ribbons. Leena somehow escaped the institute and continued to let herself be abused by becoming a prostitute for wealthy pedophiles. When she was caught for that she pretended to be a child to avoid jail time, and tricked an American family to adopt her after being sent to an orphanage, seeking the only form of adult love she knew, from a father figure. Leena tried to seduce her new father—when rejected she killed him, his family, and then set their house on fire. Leena was then taken in by another orphanage where she met the Colemans, who then as you read earlier caused a lot of chaos trying to manipulate and seduce John into being with her. Then she stabbed him to death when he rejected her—makes sense for a grown man to tell what he thought was a nine-year-old girl no but OKAY Esther! Anyways, Kate does kill her. Daniel lives, Max lives, John's a goner but he didn't believe Kate so that's kind of on him right? I'm only kidding, none of them deserved the pain Esther/Leena caused.
The first time I watched this, it was all I could think about for weeks. As I said before, I don't watch very many movies like this because I'm easily scared but I had to do it for Vera of course! I'm so glad that I watched this. It's now one of my top favorite movies. I recommend it. I love to show it off to people who haven't seen it yet because the story is so crazy to me! Thanks for reading!