Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Something's Wrong with Esther

(movie review)


Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Margo Martindale and Karel Roden.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

Oh yes, there is something very wrong with Esther.

There is also something very right about a horror film that accomplishes its ultimate goal - to put the audience in suspense. Any flick can give you a good jumpscare, but actually putting you on the edge of your seat is a trickier proposition as moviegoers grow more and more savvy. Fortunately director Jaume Collet-Serra has fun with genre conventions. When the mother opens a refrigerator door at night, the music builds tightly so that you just know there's going to be someone holding a knife when she shuts the door. But no one's there and the music calms down. So each time it happens (opening the bathroom cabinet, slowly peering around the corner) we really don't know if anyone's going to be there or not.

The plot should do about as much good for adopting older children as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did for rural law enforcement. As an adopter of two kids myself, I'll just say it exploits fears and prejudices about adopting, but it's a horror flick, so I might as well gripe about the inaccurate jumping patterns of mutant spiders in Eight Legged Freaks.

Isabelle Fuhrman, who was 11 when this was made, plays Esther, and a lot of the success of the film rests on her shoulders, and she's up to the task. She goes past Bad Seed / Good Son territory here, and while there are only so many twists a horror movie can have (they're all dead! no wait, it's a split personality!), the third act reveal here is surprising, out of left field, and makes complete sense.

The terror here builds slowly. A little too slowly, as no horror movie should have more than a two-hour running time. The movie has its flaws. Pertinent information is withheld at convenient times, the psychologist is too easily fooled, and the last few minutes traipses through cliche-ville. But the cast here is really good, and I was really worried that many members of this otherwise very nice family weren't going to make it out alive. I guess what I'm saying is that I cared about the characters. How novel.

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